Russell Hebets Feb. 15, 2012

This morning’s Denver Post broke a story which adds yet another black eye to the beleaguered Denver Police Department. In a recent trial Denver police Detective Robin Gray testified regarding a 2009 burglary charge. A relevant part of that prior conviction was a witness statement physically describing the men who were running from the burglary scene. Detective Gray testified that since the implementation of a new electronic records system 5 years ago, the procedure for recording suspect descriptions changed. In the new system, once the Denver police department has a suspect in custody, they enter the actual description of the suspect in an electronic report system which routinely over-writes the original witness description. This is extremely problematic and could easily lead to false convictions.

The circumstances which brought this to light are a great example of when this information could put an innocent man behind bars. The witness in the original 2009 case described the suspects running from the burglary scene as “3 Hispanic men.” The defendant who had already been convicted for the crime does not look Hispanic, and the witness’s original statement was nowhere to be found in Denver police Detective Gray’s 2009 report. Presumably the defendant’s attorney in 2009 was not aware of this glaring hole in the prosecution’s ability to identify the defendant as one of the burglars.

It is not uncommon for identity to be a key element in the evidence convicting a defendant of a crime. If information regarding identity is over-written, erased, or otherwise buried by the Denver police department then this is a grievous violation of a defendant’s due process rights. It is almost a given that a defense initiated investigation into the 2009 conviction at issue will be launched. There will likely be countless other convictions from the past 5 years which will be called into questions due to the possibility that the Denver police department, either inadvertently or intentionally, suppressed key identification information which had the potential to exonerate those accused of crimes.