A Jefferson County sheriff's deputy pepper-sprayed two Denver police detectives posing as protesters Aug. 25 during a protest at the Democratic National Convention — an action the American Civil Liberties Union said exacerbated an already tense situation in which more than 100 people were ultimately arrested.
Deputy Brian Shousse pepper-sprayed the detectives after they faked an attack on a Denver police commander, a ruse that was said to be necessary so the detectives could avoid having their undercover status compromised.
The ACLU is asking the Office of the Independent Monitor, which reviews the actions of the Denver Police Department, to investigate the actions of the Denver detectives to see if they followed correct procedure.
"The actions of the undercover detectives on August 25, 2008, may have had the effect of exacerbating an already 'tense situation,' as their feigned struggle led nearby officers and the public to believe that a commanding officer was being attacking (sic) by protesters and that the situation necessitated the use of chemical agents," Taylor Pendergrass, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Colorado, wrote in a Nov. 6 letter.
"Such actions may have escalated the overall situation by causing officers on the scene to fear that the protesters threatened their safety, when in fact the struggle was only between uniformed officers and undercover officers."
Shousse isn't facing any disciplinary actions in the case, said Jim Shires, spokesman for the Jeffco Sheriff's Office.
“Everything was under contract, and everything was under the direction from Denver," Shires said. Shires added that Shousse would face disciplinary action from the sheriff's office only if "someone's filed a formal complaint, and I don't think they have."
Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado's legal director, confirmed Nov. 7 that the request for an investigation has little to do with Shousse.
"The letter is focused more on undercover officers and their actions — feigning a resistance in that situation where those actions had potentially very dangerous consequences of riling up the protesters, or riling up the police,” Silverstein said.
“The issue we're trying to raise is whether it's unprofessional or unwise conduct to go so far to protect your cover you risk escalating an already volatile situation."