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Johnson v. Department of Safety.

2021 COA 135. No. 19CA2041.  Career Service Personnel System—Disciplinary Process—Evidentiary and Ultimate Facts.

November 4, 2021


The Career Service Personnel System established by Denver’s City Charter authorizes the Career Service Authority Board of the City and County of Denver (Board) to promulgate rules to enforce and oversee the merit-based personnel system. Part of the Career Service Rules (CSR) specifies the rules, grounds for discipline, and disciplinary process for Denver employees.

Johnson was the watch commander at the Denver Downtown Detention Center when a use of force incident occurred that ultimately resulted in an inmate’s death. The Department of Safety for the City and County of Denver (Agency) brought a disciplinary action against Johnson in which the Agency’s civilian review administrator determined that Johnson neglected his duties when he failed to supervise the incident. A hearing officer reversed the initial decision, but on review the Board reversed the hearing officer and suspended Johnson for 10 days. The district court affirmed the Board’s decision.

On appeal, Johnson argued that the Board improperly engaged in its own factfinding and abused its discretion when it overturned the hearing officer’s decision by dismissing certain testimony and improperly interpreting the applicable CSR. However, the Board merely reached different ultimate conclusions from the same underlying evidentiary facts, and its decision was supported by competent evidence and conformed with the CSR.

Johnson also argued that the Board erred when it dismissed the testimony of retired Captain Wood. Here, Captain Wood was only present at the incident for a minute or two, so the Board was entitled to reject his testimony on grounds that he lacked personal knowledge of the entire incident. Further, the hearing officer’s reliance on Captain Wood’s testimony as an expert usurped the Agency’s authority to set policy. Thus, the Board did not abuse its discretion by discounting most of Captain Wood’s testimony.

Johnson also contended that his actions did not rise to the level of a violation, so the Board’s construction of CSR 16 was improper. However, the Board’s interpretation of its employee standards was reasonable and not contrary to law and therefore not erroneous.

The Board’s reversal of the hearing officer’s decision was affirmed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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