Cop (unsuccessfully) sued department for releasing video of him abusing suspect
A federal appeals court on Monday dismissed a lawsuit brought by a fired Oklahoma police officer who sued his former department for damages after the agency released a video of the officer roughing up a suspect. The officer, Mike Denton, was fired and then reinstated with full back pay before being fired again years later after another video surfaced of him allegedly using excessive force on someone. Denton previously claimed the first video's release was a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech and association.
The 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals said the former officer did not prove that the release of the 2011 video by the Owasso Police Department was done in retaliation. Denton had previously e-mailed fellow union members urging them to reject a proposed collective bargaining agreement. But ultimately, the court said that Denton proffered "unsubstantiated allegations" (PDF).
The officer's suit, however, highlights that different people can come to varying conclusions about the value of police video. This idea first came to light with the Rodney King beating, but a similar split occurred with videos in Charlotte, North Carolina and El Cajon, California just last week. In this instance, Denton likely would not have found himself in hot water at all if not for the initial video.
In the Denton matter, the police department gave the Tulsa World video footage in 2011. Court documents describe this footage as Denton stepping on a suspect's head and then positioning the suspect's arms so that he "drove the suspect's face into the floor." What's more, the video shows Denton elbowing "the suspect in the face three times."
Last year, the Owasso City Council agreed to settle the federal civil rights lawsuit brought by the suspect whose abuse was caught on tape. The city agreed to pay $75,000 to Bryan Spradlin, 30. Arrested at his wife's residence on suspicion of intoxication, Spradlin claimed in his federal suit that he "suffered from numerous injuries, including facial cellulitis, due to Defendant's failure to secure immediate medical attention." The suit claims he also "suffered severe humiliation and emotional distress due to his abusive, demeaning, and humiliating treatment by the Officers."
Denton was fired in 2011 on allegations that he violated the department's excessive force rules. An arbitrator reinstated the officer a year later, ordering him to be given back pay and benefits totaling $283,000. Next, a Tulsa judge concluded that reinstatement would pose a "special risk of injury, physical and psychological, to citizens and, if he is allowed reinstatement, the department will be faced with explaining why Owasso allows abusive conduct by its officers, which is against the law." An Oklahoma appeals panel reversed this decision, and the state's Supreme Court declined to intervene—meaning that Denton returned to his job in 2014 with back pay plus $47,000 in overtime and $36,000 in interest, according to the Tulsa World.
Now Denton has been fired again, and he's accused of using excessive force on a second suspect, another incident captured on video. He faces an assault trial beginning November 28. Denton is accused of pushing the barrel of a shotgun through the window of a vehicle and repeatedly using that weapon to hit the head of a stolen-car suspect who led authorities on a chase for 45 minutes.