A Denver sheriff’s deputy ignored an inmate’s blood-curdling screams and looked on with indifference as a group of fellow inmates brutally attacked him and scalded his genitals with hot water, the man’s attorneys wrote in federal court filings filed this week.
Jamal Hunter says in the civil rights lawsuit that the deputy not only failed to protect him from the July 2011 attack but also facilitated and encouraged it. Video surveillance filed as part of the lawsuit shows the deputy, Gaynel Rumer, walking around the cell block in the Downtown Denver Detention Center without looking directly inside the cell where Hunter was being beaten.
The filings include testimony from several inmates who were in the cellblock at the time who said they are still haunted by the sounds of Hunter’s prolonged screams.
The filings paint a portrait of an out-of-control cellblock run by gangs, where inmates brewed “hooch” by the gallon and dealt in contraband and frequently fought. Contributing was Rumer, who inmates said smelled of alcohol and agitated inmates to fight by sharing with them details of each other’s grievances and pointing out the sex offenders. When he wasn’t involved in escalating problems, inmates testified, he often ignored them.
Hunter, now 39, said he was attacked after his cellmates in Cell 103 accused him of snitching and insulting them behind their backs. He said they punched him, broke his nose, tied his legs and later burned his genitals with boiling water they got from a spigot to which inmates apparently had unfettered access.
The lawsuit says Rumer, who is still on the job after a 40-day suspension, knew Hunter would be assaulted because of his relationship with the attackers “and because he had previously allowed rampant fighting to occur so that inmates could address their conflicts.”
Rumer denies the inmates’ allegations, said his attorney Thomas Rice, adding that the court filings were the first he had heard about the inmate witnesses.
“The Denver Sheriff’s Department did a very thorough investigation into this, and none of this stuff that is now being claimed came out,” Rice said. “This idea that Rumer caused this is just not right. The idea there was this long period of screaming that went ignored is totally untrue.”
The latest details were contained in documents filed this week in connection with the lawsuit, which has been pending since 2012.
Rumer “displayed a shocking lack of humanity by encouraging and enabling the attack,” Hunter’s attorney, Qusair Mohamedbhai, said. “No one should have to go through the torture that Jamal experienced as a result of Denver’s inability to ensure inmate safety. The pattern of abuse, injury, and death in the Denver jail must stop.”
The case was among the high-profile misconduct issues that shook the sheriff’s department in recent months. Among those who were deposed as part of the lawsuit was former Division Chief Michael Than, who abruptly resigned last month while facing his own misconduct allegations.
Hunter said Rumer’s pod was dangerous. On the day of the attack, Rumer turned the lights off in Cell 103. He said it was because inmates complained that they were hot, but the inmates said he did so to keep the fight off surveillance cameras.
“I told Rumer 15 minutes before this was going to go down that I was going to take care of the situation. Rumer said ‘OK’ and offered to turn off the lights,” Amos U. Page, then an inmate in Cell 103, said in testimony. “The Hunter incident could not have gone down without Rumer’s help, as Hunter was screaming the entire time he was conscious.”
Page said Rumer hated Hunter “because Hunter would openly make fun of him for being a drunk.”
Sgt. Karolina Sich, who was Rumer’s supervisor, said in her deposition that his “rapid pace passing the cells” reinforced her feeling that Rumer wasn’t being entirely truthful with her about the attack.
“I don’t believe anybody could do a fair observation, even just by passing that fast to see what was going on,” she said. “And then with the lights being off, you can’t really — you can’t hardly see anything, even in the daylight hours, inside those eight-man pods.”
She said the thought of Rumer’s possible involvement in the incident had crossed her mind.
None of the inmates involved in the attack, which Hunter says left him permanently scarred, was charged with a crime.
Others named in Hunter’s lawsuit include the city of Denver and Deputy Edward Keller, who Hunter said beat him after he was already injured in the attack. The grievance Hunter filed in that incident spurred the city’s independent monitor to launch an investigation that found the department failed to formally investigate dozens of serious allegations of deputy misconduct.
Maj. Frank Gale, a department spokesman, said he could not comment on pending litigation.
“We’ve got to wait for our day in court,” he said.
Sadie Gurman: 303-954-1661, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/sgurman