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Deputy fired after inmates smuggled drugs through Uber Eats delivery

The deputy said he wanted to reward the inmates for helping clean the housing pod

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By Elise Schmelzer
The Denver Post

DENVER — A Denver sheriff’s deputy was fired after allowing two inmates — including one suspected of murder — to order burritos and Chinese food into the jail from outside restaurants, which the inmates then used to smuggle drugs into the facility.

Derrek Peterson was fired Friday following an eight-month investigation that found he did not know that the inmates were using the food delivery to bring in drugs, but that he violated multiple policies by allowing them to order the food, according to a disciplinary letter obtained by The Denver Post through a public records request.

The food was purportedly ordered and delivered through Uber Eats or Grubhub, according to the letter. One of the inmates said he had a relative that worked for one of the food delivery services.

The two inmates, identified in the letter only by their initials TL and DW, distributed the smuggled drugs to others in the Denver Downtown Detention Facility in July. Investigators believe the drugs contributed to another inmate’s attempted suicide, which he survived.

“Although thankfully, (the suicidal inmate) survived, the possibilities of what could have been smuggled in, and the potential dangers that could have been caused, are endless,” wrote Carl McEncroe, civilian review administrator at the Denver Department of Public Safety. “Deputy Peterson’s loss of objectivity in trusting TL and DW to the point where he would have allowed them to personally order ‘food’ from outside the jail is an act so serious that it demonstrates Deputy Peterson’s lack of fitness to continue holding the position of Denver deputy sheriff.”

Peterson also spoke with one of TL’s relatives about potentially working for TL’s father’s business, despite the fact that TL was a suspect in a murder case.

Peterson said he allowed the two inmates to order food via the inmate’s telephone because he wanted to reward them for helping clean the housing pod. One of the inmates, TL, told Peterson that a relative worked for a food delivery service and could arrange the delivery of the food. The two inmates twice ordered food to the jail under Peterson’s watch. Peterson picked up the ordered food from the front desk and brought it up to the pod for the two men. He said he searched the meals each time and found nothing.

Peterson told investigators in an interview that he was attempting to show humanity to the two men, one of whom he bonded with as a fellow combat veteran. He said he was tired and “not in the right state of mind” when he allowed it the first time, despite feeling hesitant.

“When the inmates asked jokingly if we could order some food I sought this as an opportunity to do with my humanity as police officers do on the street occasionally buying people coffee or meals,” Peterson told investigators, according to the letter. “For that, I’m sorry, and my mistake cost me a lot, more than I could ever imagine. I let a lot of people down, and I lost a lot of respect. This mistake is and will only be a one-time mistake, and for that, I have thoroughly learned my lesson.”

The investigation began Aug. 6 after an inmate reported that a deputy was helping other inmates smuggle drugs into the facility. Text messages between Peterson and one of TL’s relatives show him communicating with her on July 20 about food deliveries. She told him that she sent food to the jail via the Uber Eats delivery service.

“Although it is not believed that Deputy Peterson was in any way aware that DW and TL sought to smuggle in drugs, he, unfortunately, became an unwary tool in their scheme,” McEncroe wrote. “Regrettably, Deputy Peterson has faithfully served the department, but his good service does not negate the reality of what transpired under his watch.”

Peterson joined the department in 2016. His prior disciplinary history included four reprimands for misuse of leave time and one 10-day suspension for inappropriate use of force.

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