After receiving many calls from Douglas County citizens concerned about the police-custody death of George Floyd, Sheriff Tony Spurlock has offered his opinion: The restraint tactic used by Minneapolis police never should have happened.
“There is no reasonable, rational reason for any police officer to use that kind of restraint on someone,” Spurlock said in a phone interview.
On May 25, Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers who were present for the incident have also been charged.
Protests against police brutality erupted across the country, including in Denver, Douglas County and other metro-area communities, following the event.
Spurlock made similar comments before a recent state legislative committee.
“We are disgusted by the behavior of the officers in Minnesota,” he told members of the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, as Colorado Politics reported. “Those were bad cops, and if they work for any sheriff in this room they would have been fired just the same.”
In Spurlock’s view, what happened in Minneapolis would never happen in Douglas County, he said.
“The officers that work for me, that serve the people of Douglas County, they’re exceptionally trained to protect life,” he told Colorado Communuty Media.
It is against Douglas County Sheriff’s Office policy to make an arrested person lie on their stomach for any period of time because of the chance of asphyxiation, he said. Deputies are also trained to speak out if they see a fellow law enforcement officer breaking policy.
“Those (Minneapolis) officers should have intervened, they should have taken action to protect life,” Spurlock said.
The sheriff’s office also decided on June 8 to prohibit the use of chokeholds and lateral vascular neck restraints — a technique that cuts off blood flow to a person’s brain, except in a situation where the deputy is threatened with deadly force, said spokeswoman Lauren Childress.
They will also stop training deputies in how to use the techniques, she said.
About 25 deputies per day from Douglas County assisted the Denver Police Department’s efforts to monitor protests in downtown Denver for the first four days of demonstrations protesting Floyd’s death.
“There were tremendous amounts of people peacefully protesting,” Spurlock said. “There were a number of people who were not peacefully protesting … They were breaking the law.”
In a public Facebook post about the death of Floyd, Spurlock called the riots that have followed some protests shameful and vicious.
“(They) have diminished the purpose of peaceful protests and the memory of George Floyd,” he wrote in the post.
Inside the sheriff’s office, deputies are somewhat frustrated with the nation’s reaction to the death of Floyd, Spurlock said.
“One bad apple, one bad guy doing something horrible has brought disrespect on the profession of law enforcement, which 99.9% of police officers across this country do with honor and dignity,” Spurlock said. “We have lots of people frustrated and angry because people say bad stuff about the cops.”
In Douglas County specifically, many people have voiced their support of law enforcement, he said.
Democrat Kyra Storojev, a candiate for state House District 44 from Parker, said she has never seen or heard of anything in Douglas County like what happened to George Floyd. Still, she says now is the time to work together to ensure that it never does.
“How can we work together best to ensure that we don’t have aggressive force against people of color?” she said. “That’s what’s heightened right now.”
Storojev suggested increased education for deputies in de-escalation techniques and possibly requiring all deputies to have at least an associate desgree. Right now, the sheriff’s office requires a high school degree or an equivalent GED diploma.
“I would like to see a coordinated symposium from demonstrators and groups against racial discrimination so we can come to some resolution together,” she said.
Kathy Boyer, a leader with the Highlands Ranch chapter of the activist group Indivisible, said the organization is working on a list of requests for the sheriff’s office in response to the national calls for changes in policing.
The list, which has not been finalized, could include things like reallocating funding from the sheriff’s office to areas like education and mental health aid, she said.
“I hope our law enforcement will look within and instead of checking a box that says they did their anti-bias training, I hope they see it as a daily way of operating,” Boyer said.
In response to Spurlock’s statement that what happened to Floyd would never happen in Douglas County, Boyer said it could happen anywhere.
“I think there are a lot of bad things that happen in the world and we all want to say that they would never happen in our community,” she said.
While Spurlock said he believes racism and discrimination are issues in the country, he doesn’t see what happened to Floyd as a part of a larger systemic issue — something that many protesters have asserted in the days following the man’s death.
“I think that there are some places that don’t train well,” he said. “And I think that that’s rare.”
Spurlock would like to see increased accountability for law enforcement officers who have acted outside of policies, making it more difficult for them to stay in the profession.
A bill that passed in the Colorado legislature June 11 calls for a database of officers who have been decertified, failed to follow training or been fired. The Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity bill also would require all officers to wear body cameras; provide annual reports of force; outlaw the use of chokeholds; and require officers to have an objective justification when making a stop of a civilian.
Spurlock and other law enforcement leaders spoke out against some parts of the bill shortly after it was introduced.
“There are some things I support in the bill but there are greater issues I do not,” he said at the time.
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