Jail beating: City says its possible liability tops out at $100K in homeless victim case
Update: Yesterday, we reported about a jury award of $40,000 to Robert Duran, a homeless man beaten bloody at Denver jail -- as well as the prospect that the city might decide against indemnifying the ex-deputy deemed responsible. As we noted, Denver City Attorney Doug Friednash wasn't available immediately after the decision. But he's since reached out to Westword and says that while no decisions have been made yet, the city won't be liable for nearly as much cash as Duran's attorney suggests -- $100,000 at most.
As we've reported, Duran was in custody circa March 2009 when, according to attorney David Lane, Deputy Stephen Koehler aggressively shoved him into the back of an elevator, then reacted to Duran's complaints a short time later by ramming him into a door jamb and stomping on his face.
Koehler was fired the following year after statements he made about the incident didn't match up with video taken at the scene -- footage that Lane credits with convincing the jury to rule in Duran's favor.
Earlier this week, before the jury weighed in, Friednash told the Denver Post that any decision about indemnifying Koehler was premature. Afterward, Lane interpreted that as meaning the city might leave it to the deputy to pick up the tab not only for the aforementioned $40,000, but also legal fees that he estimates at between $150,000-$200,000.
But rather than complaining about potentially being stiffed, Lane said he would gladly forgo the money if the city established a policy against paying off for officers convicted of civil-rights violations. His theory: If cops realize they could lose their houses for brutality, most of them might stop committing such acts.
In a statement provided to Westword, Friednash doesn't comment about a policy shift in this regard. Instead, he focuses on the amount of money involved, which he characterizes as considerably less than Lane's estimate.
"Mr. Duran's judgment is against former Deputy Sheriff Steven Koehler, not the City of Denver," Friednash writes. "Mr. Koehler was terminated by the City of Denver, and Denver was dismissed as a defendant in this lawsuit last year.
"Colorado law requires the City to indemnify its officers for any judgment entered against them for torts, but only when those torts are committed within the scope of their employment," he goes on. "In this case, that potential indemnification is limited to $100,000.
"The question of whether the City will provide such indemnification to Mr. Koehler is premature," he reiterates. "Mr. Koehler is represented by outside counsel, not the City Attorney's Office. Certain post-trial motions have to be decided before a judgment is entered and Mr. Koehler still has the right to appeal this decision. The City will not make any decisions regarding indemnification until the appropriate time."
Continue for our previous coverage of the Robert Duran beating and judgment.