Aurora struggles with how to respond to cops that can’t be fired — even for racism

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Busted: Aurora police Sgt. Charles DeShazer in a police body-cam video screen grab. DeShazier made a racial slur and was fired. His firing was reversed by a city commission.

AURORA | City leaders irked by the reinstatement last month of an Aurora cop fired for making a racist slur caught on body camera probably shouldn’t hope for an appeal — even though many remained outraged about the case.

A city attorney said this week that their office has a few weeks to decide whether to ask an Arapahoe County District Court judge to uphold the firing of veteran police officer Chuck DeShazer. Officials said these sorts of appeals are costly and difficult to win.

“It really would be a high bar,” said Senior Assistant City Attorney Nancy Rodgers.

Aurora cop fired for racist remark gets his job back

Chief Nick Metz fired Lt. Charles DeShazer in September just a few months after DeShazer called a group of people “Alabama porch monkeys” following a police pursuit and officer-involved shooting in Denver. Another officer’s body camera recorded the comment, and two officers on the scene that night reported it to the department.

DeShazer appealed the firing to the city’s Civil Service Commission, which held a two-day hearing last month and later re-instated DeShazer, demoting him to sergeant.

Chief Nick Metz and Mayor Bob LeGare have both been critical of the commission’s decision. LeGare went so far to issue a statement last week saying it may be time to reconsider how the commission operates. In the past, those efforts have raised the ire of the police and firefighter unions, who argue it’s a critical component of due process officers deserve.

The head of the police union did not return a request for comment this week.

DeShazer made headlines more than a decade ago when he was accused of calling a disabled black woman the “N-word” while arresting her and her daughter in 2006. An internal review board cleared DeShazer of wrongdoing in that case, but the city later settled with the woman for $175,000.

Based on the commission’s ruling in the 2017 incident, it doesn’t appear that prior case was considered during the latest appeal, although several of DeShazer’s other disciplinary infractions were.

The city’s only option if they don’t want DeShazer on the force now is to ask the district court to review the Civil Service Commission’s decision.

Rodgers said the city hasn’t made a decision yet about whether to appeal, but she said it’s unlikely they will opt to go that route.

The court wouldn’t re-litigate the facts of the case, she said, and it would instead look only at whether the commission stayed within the city’s charter. That charter gives the commission the authority to modify or reduce a chief’s discipline, which is what they did in this case.

She said city officials have a couple of weeks to look at the decision, but she doesn’t anticipate an appeal.

City attorney officials, however, said their office has heard from activist groups who want to see DeShazer fired.

Despite the tough path the district court presents, the city has appealed in a similar case before. In 2013 the city went to district court in hopes of upholding the firing of Officer Chris Falco, an oft-disciplined cop who had been fired after a variety of infractions — including calling a wounded auto-part thief a “marshmallow head,” babysitting his grandson while on duty, cursing at a teenager during a traffic stop and making homophobic remarks. The Civil Service Commission overturned Falco’s firing and the district court sided with the commission on appeal.

In DeShazer’s case, the commission said in their finding that he should be reinstated but demoted from lieutenant to sergeant. The commission said he should not receive any back pay for the months he was fired, which stretched from September to June.

The commission said they based their decision in a large part on other cases where officers made crude, racist or insensitive remarks but weren’t fired.

“From the evidence presented to the commission in this hearing, in the history of the Aurora Police Department, no officer has ever been terminated based on the sole violation (of the code DeShazer and other officers violated),” the commission wrote.

The finding makes no mention of the allegations against DeShazer in 2006, but says he has received written reprimands three times prior, including once for making a sexually offensive comment.

It’s unclear from the findings whether the commission considered or even knew about the prior accusations of racism against DeShazer.

“Petitioner has no history of previous racially derogatory comments,” the findings said.

The five commissioners declined to comment for this story, citing a potential appeal.

Since the Aurora Internal Review Board cleared DeShazer in 2006 — a decision that came down only after the woman, Loree McCormick-Rice, refused to testify because she had pending litigation against DeShazer and the city — that case likely didn’t go to Civil Service at the time.

Still, the commission said they found DeShazer’s comments in the 2017 incident “completely impermissible.”

The findings said DeShazer testified that he thought as a child that the “Alabama porch monkeys” was a reference to lazy people, but he admitted that by the time he made the recorded comment in 2017 he knew the racist nature of the term.