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Denver police settlements put fired officers atop of city's payroll in 2021

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Tom Gantert

(The Center Square) - Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen made about $237,000 as head of the department in 2021.

But Pazen, who recently announced he is retiring, wasn't close to being the highest paid city employee last year.

That was two former Denver Police Department employees who took a lawsuit settlement over use of excessive force that spent about a dozen years in the court system.

Randy Murr, a former corporal in the department, made $643,597 in 2021, and Devin Sparks, a former police officer, made $435,000, and were the highest paid Denver employees. Their compensation was part of a settlement reached after an appeal by the city was rejected by the state Supreme Court.

Outside the settlement, the city's next highest paid employee was James Caruso, who made $357,997 as the chief medical examiner and coroner. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock made $181,670 in 2021. Denver City Council Member Stacie Gilmore, who served as council president in 2021, made $109,375.

A division police chief with gross pay of $333,369 was the next highest paid employee, nearly $100,000 more than the police chief made in 2021.

Murr and Sparks were initially disciplined with suspensions for excessive force during a 2009 incident. The officers arrested two men outside a Denver nightclub. Sparks threw a man, who had punched him and resisted arrest, onto the ground face first and struck him as many as 10 times with a baton as the suspect lay in the fetal position.

But their cases were reopened after video of the incidents were made public. They were later fired when their stories were not corroborated by video of the incident captured by police cameras on the scene.

But the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in 2019 that the department didn't have the authority to rescind its initial discipline after the time for appealing that order expired.

In 2020, the Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear the city's appeal.

The Denver Post reported that the city came up with a $1.1 million settlement for the two officers and, in return, Murr and Sparks would never work for the city again.