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$3.25 million settlement in Jamal Hunter excessive-force case gets final OK

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DENVER — It’s the largest payout ever stemming from a case of excessive force at the Denver Sheriff’s Department, and it received final approval from the Denver City Council Monday night.

The city says the $3.25 million settlement with Jamal Hunter is the least costly way to move forward. The City Council gave preliminary approval last week and it became a done deal Monday night. It also calls for an independent review of the sheriff’s department.

In a rare move, the settlement also spells out that a federal judge will maintain jurisdiction over the city and make sure Denver keeps its end of the bargain and implements real reform.

Jail house video sparked the lawsuit and major changes at the Denver Sheriff’s Department.   Hunter sued after one Denver Sheriff’s deputy choked him and another ignored his cries for help as other inmates attacked him.

“I think it’s important that the reform does take place and it doesn’t go under the rug and with a settlement like this,” Hunter said. “I believe they’re going to be making the proper moves toward doing that.”

His attorney says their case revealed a culture of brutality and coverup with the sheriff, police and city attorney departments.

In a rare move, the settlement also spells out that a federal judge will maintain jurisdiction over the city and make sure Denver keeps its end of the bargain and implements real reform.

“The takeaway is there has been a culture of failure to discipline officers and deputies and that’s going to change with or without the city’s voluntary actions because we will go to court to make sure these important issues are enforced,” says Hunter’s attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai.

One thing that didn’t happen was the standard city denying liability. That could have huge legal implications for future excessive force lawsuits. Just last week another one was filed for $5 million. Denver City Council members acknowledged there will likely be more monetary pay-outs

“There’s a new day in the Denver Sheriff’s Department,” interim Sheriff Elias Diggins said. “And that the level of accountability is going to be heightened.”

The repercussions have already been felt. Sheriff Gary Wilson was forced to step down and Diggins was named interim sheriff. On top of that, a federal judge called for a federal investigation of the Denver Police and Sheriff’s departments. The city is going forward with its own review.

The Hunter case revealed some disturbing details at the jail and forced the city to take action. Now more inmates are coming forward. The sheriff’s department has more than 100 cases open with 70 cases filed this year. Besides policy changes, more officer training is expected.