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Denver police officer suspended for making derogatory statements about Spanish speakers

2 min read

A Denver police officer will lose 10 days of pay for saying people who cannot speak English and only speak Spanish should leave the country.

“Those comments were perjorative, disparaging and, therefore, derogatory,” Deputy Director of Safety Mary Dulacki wrote in an Oct. 27 letter outlining the discipline, obtained by The Denver Post through a public records request. “The comments were based upon actual or perceived national origin, were discriminatory and were in violation of the Department of Safety (Equal Employment Opportunity) Policy.”

An officer in the department on May 8 was hanging up signs in both English and Spanish about COVID-19 safety in the underground parking area at Denver police headquarters when Officer Matthew Graves approached. The officer later reported that Graves asked her about the signs and said, “This is America, and we speak English here.”

The officer also heard Graves say “something to the effect of, ‘If you don’t speak English either go home or back to Mexico,’” according to the letter.

The officer did not believe anybody else heard the comments until three people who work as janitors approached her and said they wanted to make a complaint about Graves’ comments.

The three janitorial staff members said in later interviews with internal affairs that they had been sitting in the nearby custodial office speaking Spanish when they heard Graves make the comments. One of the women said the comments made her upset and another woman said “she is less confident at work because she fears people will be angry or upset with her for speaking Spanish,” according to the letter. The three women said they didn’t know whether Graves knew they were in the office.

In an interview with internal affairs, Graves said he remembered saying, “This is America. I thought we speak English here,” but that he meant it as a joke. Graves, who joined the department in 1994, said he didn’t remember saying that people who don’t speak English should leave the country, but said it was possible he made such a statement. He said he did not know that three Spanish-speaking staff members were in the custodial office.

“Officer Graves said he would like to apologize to the individuals who heard the comments and said the comments did not appropriately represent DPD or himself,” the letter states.

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