Pubdate: Mon, 07 Feb 2000
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2000 The Denver Post
Contact:  1560 Broadway, Denver, CO 80202
Fax: (303) 820.1502
Author: Patricia Callahan


4 Head For Hawaii After Officer Charged

Feb. 7 - Denver City Councilman Ed Thomas on Sunday criticized four of the 
city's top police officials for jetting to a conference in Hawaii with 
their families the day after a Denver officer was charged with perjury.

The controversy surrounds a September "no-knock" drug search, in which SWAT 
officers raided the wrong Denver house and killed 45-year-old Mexican 
immigrant Ismael Mena after they said he fired a gun at them. On Friday, 
officer Joseph Bini was charged with lying under oath to get the search 
warrant for Mena's home.

Demanding that the city stop granting no-knock warrants, about 250 
protesters marched from City Hall to police headquarters Saturday, unaware 
that Chief Tom Sanchez, Deputy Chief David Abrams and Division chiefs Mary 
Beth Klee and Gerry Whitman left for the conference that day. "There are 
citizens that are very concerned about this investigation, about the death 
of this innocent guy, and the chief just says, 'I'm going to Hawaii,' " 
Thomas said. "It's not just a case of bad judgment. It's arrogance. ... 
Man, even the captain of the Titanic hung around."

When told of the conference, Mena's supporters were outraged.

"It reeks - the audacity they have meeting with other chiefs of police over 
pina coladas on the beaches of Hawaii instead of focusing energy on the 
allegations we've put before them and investigating the specifics of the 
case," said LeRoy Lemos, a spokesman for the Justice for Mena Committee, a 
community group pushing the city to severely limit or ban no-knock search 

On Sunday, Denver Manager of Safety Butch Montoya said the trip to the 
conference of the Major Cities Police Chiefs' Association was scheduled 
previously and that the city still is pursuing the Mena case.

"By no means has this not been a busy weekend or high priority weekend for 
this case," Montoya said.

This weekend, Montoya discussed the case with Carlos Barros, the Mexican 
consul general for Denver who has asked for a federal civil rights probe. 
Montoya also said he tried to reach the attorney for the Mena family. The 
city faces a civil-rights lawsuit brought by the family of Mena, a legal 
resident who worked in Denver to support his wife and kids in Mexico.

Montoya said conferences offer opportunities for "leadership development" 
and give the chief and his top administrators the chance to "come back with 
new ideas and new ways of thinking." Montoya could not recall when he and 
Stephanie Foote, Mayor Wellington Webb's longtime chief of staff, approved 
the trip. He said that taxpayers would not pay for the spouses' travel 

Montoya believed the police brass would be gone for about a week and said 
Deputy Chief Heather Coogan is in charge.

Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas, appointed as a special 
prosecutor in the Mena case, cleared the two officers who shot Mena because 
Mena allegedly pointed and fired a handgun at police. Thomas said a 
jailhouse informant suggested that Mena was a gatekeeper for the crack 
house next door, an allegation that Mena's friends and family vehemently 
deny, Thomas said.

Regardless, the father of nine would not have been in the gunfight if 
officer Bini hadn't allegedly lied to get permission for the no-knock 
warrant, where officers barge in unannounced and then identify themselves, 
Thomas said.
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