New Denver sheriff is step toward reforming troubled agency

AP News
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Posted: Oct 15, 2015 4:45 PM
New Denver sheriff is step toward reforming troubled agency

DENVER (AP) — A longtime corrections official from northern Illinois has been chosen to lead Denver's embattled sheriff's department, the first step toward major reforms of an agency mired in misconduct and excessive force allegations.

Patrick Firman will head up the roughly 890-member department that oversees the city's jails, Mayor Michael Hancock announced Thursday. Denver had been searching for a new sheriff since Gary Wilson resigned in July 2014 amid a series of high-profile problems that prompted calls for a federal investigation.

A pair of national consulting firms produced a 300-page report urging sweeping reforms.

Hancock said he chose Firman because he has more than 24 years of jail and management experience. He most recently served as the deputy chief of corrections for the McHenry County Sheriff's Office northwest of Chicago but has been working as a law enforcement consultant for the past year, according to his online biography.

Firman's selection comes as the Denver Sheriff Department faces scrutiny over a series of excessive force allegations that cost the city more than $9 million in legal settlements. The previous sheriff left as officials agreed to pay $3.3 million to settle a federal jail-abuse lawsuit by a former inmate over a jail beating.

Last October, a jury awarded a record $4.65 million in damages to the family of a homeless street preacher who died in the city's downtown jail.

The consulting firms, Chicago-based Hillard Heintze and Los Angeles-based OIR Group, said they found deficiencies throughout the department. They urged the city to look outside the agency to hire new leadership, including a new sheriff.

Firman said he is aware of Denver's problems and is prepared to make changes.

He said he plans on "getting his feet wet, understanding what's going on in the department and inserting myself into the process."

In Illinois, Firman oversaw jails that held hundreds of inmates. About 2,000 inmates fill Denver's jails on any given day. Firman acknowledged that he will have a learning curve.

"But I think I've got the base and background," he said.