While some may think this number pedestrian because they see it as an appropriate amount, a $3.25 million settlement for a jail beating is, to put it mildly, spectacular. This is a huge amount, a monstrously huge settlement for the victim, Jamal Hunter, not just because of his injuries, but because of his status. Jamal Hunter was a prisoner.
This settlement didn’t happen because the nice folks in Denver are a deeply caring, enormously reasonable, bunch. It happened because the plaintiff was fortunate enough to get a judge willing to do his job, no matter where it led. That judge was John Kane.
Denver city attorneys have agreed to pay $3.25 million to a former jail inmate who accused guards of ignoring his screams while being tortured, choking him later when he complained about his pain and then covering up the abuse. City officials called it the largest settlement of its kind.
Denver wasn’t exactly cooperative in disclosing what was going on in its jail. Lack of disclosure has become a disease in Denver. Judge Kane’s refusal to let Denver get away with it turned out to be the cure.
Despite objections from Denver city officials, a federal judge on Thursday unsealed police internal affairs records after determining that a police investigation “smacks of a scam.”
The documents describe a Denver jail pod out of control with a sheriff’s deputy routinely viewing pornography and drinking on the job, directing inmates to assault each other and settling scores with inmates he didn’t like.
And, as he did in the case of James D. Moore, Judge Kane made the decision that he would neither facilitate nor acquiesce in the official cover-up of the misconduct and abuse. It was really that simple: he ordered Denver to come clean. Or to put it otherwise, he refused to let Denver remain dirty.
Denver, as cities invariably do, tried to spin the settlement as best it could.
City Attorney Scott Martinez told reporters the payment was not an admission of liability, but is “an opportunity to move forward.”
That’s $3.25 million not-an-admission-of-liability there, which came after a couple of other not-an-admission-of-liability acts:
Martinez also disclosed that he had placed one of his top attorneys on “investigatory leave” related to accusations of misconduct in the case.
The announcement came one day after Sheriff Gary Wilson stepped down amid a series of embarrassing disclosures about the department — some of which stemmed directly from the Hunter case.
So Denver decided to buy its way out of the case, even if the price was high? Not with Judge Kane on the bench.
Kane told The Denver Post that even if he approves the settlement, he would press forward with other inquiries into alleged misdeeds by the city.
“There needs to be corrective steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Kane said. “It doesn’t do any good to have one scandal after another.”
See what he did there? It’s called “his job.” It may well seem surprising, perhaps shocking, that Denver didn’t get its exposed flank covered by rationalizations of the myriad excuses that are commonly used to circumvent responsibility and keep the ugliness, the harm, the corruption that festers when no one is ever willing to risk the ire of the government machine by forcing them to throw open their worst and expose it to public view. The reason this is surprising is because it happens so very rarely.
During the court proceedings, Kane already ordered the release of previously sealed documents and held an extraordinary open-court deposition in which a former inmate detailed how he worked with a jail guard to sell pot and porn to fellow inmates and mete out beatings to inmates who crossed him.
Kane also has asked federal authorities to investigate the police department and the sheriff’s office after accusing two internal affairs officers of inappropriately pressuring a key witness in the Hunter case not to testify.
It would have been incredibly easy for the judge to brush off demands to unseal documents airing the dirty laundry the Denver sheriff kept buried, but the judge refused to do so. Sure, he could easily have come up with fabulous and widely accepted excuses to refuse to allow the plaintiff access, personnel privacy, fishing expedition, irrelevance, immateriality, but he didn’t. He didn’t. And that’s the choice that turned dirty laundry into transparency.
Had his decision gone the other way, there’s a chance that Denver would have named a park after Judge Kane. He would have been admired and respected by city government officials for his judicious exercise of discretion. And past misconduct and abuse of inmates would never be known. And future misconduct and abuse of inmates would continue because no one cared. And Denver might have also put up a Judge Kane statue with the money it saved from not having to pay out a $3.25 million settlement to Jamal Hunter.
Why? Why doesn’t every judge, federal, state and local, have the guts to do his job no matter whose butt gets burned, no matter what ugliness it reveals? Why are judges so routinely antagonistic to making the government show what the law requires it to show? Why do judges almost invariably refuse to impose sanctions when the government stonewalls, deceives, conceals and lies about it? Why?
Some will view Senior District Court Judge John Kane as a traitor to the cause of protecting the machinery of government from the prying eyes of litigants and the public. Nobody should see the sausage being made, and nobody outside of government appreciates the messiness of doing their jobs. Judge Kane called bullshit.
Why isn’t every judge as bold as John Kane? Judge (I know you’re reading this), why aren’t you? Why do you think it’s better to facilitate abuse, fraud and corruption than do your job and let the chips fall where they may?
Judge John Kane isn’t a hero. He is a judge. This is what judges are supposed to do, and he has proven that he has the guts, integrity and will to do his job. The only thing that makes what happened here surprising is how few other judges are willing to do their job.