March 12, 2015
DENVER – For the second time this week, CBS4 has obtained Denver police video that led to an officer being disciplined for excessive force.
Officer Chad Sinnema was suspended for four days this week, which was a lesser penalty than was recommended by Denver’s Independent Monitor.
The most recent video was obtained from a Denver police department body camera that was rolling Aug. 22, 2014, when officers apprehended a suspect in a domestic violence incident in downtown Denver.
According to a departmental order of disciplinary action from Jan. 30, 2015, Officer Chad Sinnema and other officers caught the man, who was almost immediately combative. They say he kicked two officers, struggled and disobeyed officers orders.
They handcuffed the suspect and according to the video obtained by CBS4, had him face down in a planter.
Officer Sinnema reported “I initially held him down by placing my knee on the back of his upper shoulders … I again applied pressure to his upper shoulders with my knee …”
However, the video seems to show that for several minutes, Sinnema actually had his knee on the man’s neck. At one point on the video the suspect shouts “I’m trying to breathe … trying to live … trying to breathe.”
Sinnema also said for the several minutes he had the man pinned down “he was talking during the incident.” But that cannot be heard on the videotape.
The disciplinary letter states that “Officer Sinnema violated the departmental rules and regulations when he restrained the arrestee by placing his knee on the suspect’s neck. Officer Sinnema had other force options available that did not require the level of force he used. Officer Sinnema used ‘inappropriate force in making an arrest or dealing with a prisoner.’ ”
Officer Sinnema was suspended for four days this week — from March 8 through March 11. However, in a report released this week, Denver’s Independent Monitor, Nicholas Mitchell, indicated he thought the incident was more grave and deserved more serious punishment.
“Restraining a suspect in a prone position with pressure on the back of the neck risks significant injury , including positional asphyxia,” wrote the monitor. The OIM (Office of Independent Monitor) believed that (Sinnema) had engaged in a serious violation of policy that required significant discipline.
The OIM disagreed with the decision to impose the lowest possible penalty for inappropriate force allowed by the disciplinary matrix.”
The monitor went on to write he was “troubled by (Sinnema’s) statements that his knee had been on the ‘suspect’s shoulders’ … rather than that he had his knee across the back of the suspect’s neck, as the video footage depicted.”
Earlier this week, CBS4 obtained DPD video from a District 2 holding cell of Officer James Medina using his knee to restrain a suspect. In that case, the tactic appeared to cause the woman to black out. The department fired Medina but he is appealing that termination.
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