While police brutality is not something that’s usually openly celebrated, sheriff’s deputies in El Paso County, Colorado took excessive force to a disturbing new level with a “fight club.”
A recent report by the Colorado Springs Gazette showed how deputies working at the El Paso County Jail started a “fight club” to keep track of and reward deputies for using excessive force against inmates. In one instance the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado highlighted, deputy Sandra Rincon was given a tiara and a cake with the number 50 on it — not because she was celebrating her 50th birthday, but because she had ether cuffed or beaten 50 inmates.
Denver-based civil rights attorney David Killmer obtained police records showing the existence of the fight club and shared documents with the Gazette. Killmer learned of the deputies’ fight club in the course of a civil suit filed on behalf of his client, Philippa McCully, who was awarded $675,000 in damages for being beaten by El Paso County Jail guards.
However, despite the outrageous brutality on behalf of deputies, not one of them lost their job after a four-year internal investigation between 2012 and 2016. The only forms of punishment given out were written reprimands — no deputies were demoted, and not one had their salary cut. The ACLU of Colorado argued that this shows the problem is not with a few bad apples on the force, but with the entire institution.
“It just cries out for further investigation for what is going on in the El Paso County jail,” ACLU of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein told the Gazette. “Officers pick up attitudes like that because of the culture of the institution. And the culture of the institution is not changed by handing out a few reprimands.”
In a blog post, ACLU of Colorado executive director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley and public policy director Denise Maes said the existence of the fight club, and the county’s dismissal of it, “further exacerbates” the ongoing distrust between citizens and law enforcement.
“Use of force is no joking matter, especially in a time when community’s trust in law enforcement has been eroded by repeated incidents of excessive and even lethal force against unarmed community residents, especially people of color, usually with little or no accountability for officers involved,” Woodliff-Stanley and Maes wrote. “Excessive force is always wrong, whether the perpetrators are police officers on the streets or corrections officers in prisons and jails.”
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder (R) is up for re-election in November.
Scott Alden is a freelance contributor covering national politics, education, and environmental issues. He is a proud Toledo University graduate, and lives in the suburbs of Detroit.