Brittany Marie Iriart was born in Price, Utah to a father who was a farmer/cattle rancher and a mother who was a social worker. Her family were Bask immigrants, with her dad being first generation American and her family considered blue collar. Iriart went to Carbon High School in Carbon County, Utah, a coal mining area. In High School, Iriart wanted to be a Special Agent, working in intelligence with the CIA, FBI or some other federal agency. She often jokes that her wanting to be a Special Agent came from watching too many episodes of The X-Files. She saw strong female characters on that television program and thought to herself, “I want to be that.”
At eighteen, Iriart joined the Navy where she served for four years. After leaving, she moved through school as quickly as she could. Iriart used her GI bill to get both a Bachelors in Criminal Justice/Forensic Science and a Masters in Criminal Justice/Criminology at California State University (CSU), graduating in 2006 after four years. After school, Iriart worked in a group home for at-risk youth, leading a juvenile sex offender rehabilitation program, but never forgot her goal of attaining a Special Agent job. She applied and eventually got hired with the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), which she noted was a “great organization, great people, with a lot of travel.” During her time working for DSS Iriart protected notable persons including the Dalai Lama, Hillary Clinton, and Condoleezza Rice. Iriart also coordinated President Obama’s trip to Beijing while she was posted at the Beijing embassy. Iriart referred to her service at DSS as “globe trotting and watching history be made.”
Her posting to Beijing was very challenging, occurring during the height of the South China Sea conflict. Iriart was the only person with crime scene experience in Beijing, which came in handy when a diplomat died. She spent 2014-2016 in China, and her next assignment was to be a “high threat” posting but she had gotten “sick of the travel” and dwindling career diplomats that were occurring in DSS, so she transferred to the New Orleans DSS where she spent a year. While in New Orleans, she did criminal work and protected Prince Harry among several others that fell under DSS protection. By 2017, Iriart’s family was experiencing health issues and she wanted to be closer to them so she quit DSS and moved to Denver, Colorado.
History has shown that the Denver Sheriff’s Department (DSD) has experienced many scandals dealing with corruption in their ranks. The DSD created an office of Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) composed of half civilian members and half Sergeants from DSD. In May of 2015, an IA investigator blew the whistle on the interim head of DSD and the Captain in charge of the DSD IAB. The investigator with 26 years of previous law enforcement experience, was ordered to destroy a videotape that showed an inmate being humiliated and degraded. The investigator refused, and was fired the next day after being advised that he was too opinionated and DSD wanted to go in a different direction. The investigator became kind of a “ghost” who everyone understood was a message from management that personnel had better do what management told them, or they would be terminated.
Iriart was hired and started at DSD in 2017 and was excited and very proud of joining a civilian investigative body, because she knew “a Police Department cannot investigate itself.” Iriart found herself as one of six civilian investigators with six DSD Sergeants in IAB, which was headed up by two Captains from DSD. Iriart had heard about the history of DSD and IAB, and the investigator’s ghost but felt that was in the past. In December of 2018, Mayor Michael Hancock and Executive Director of Public Safety Troy Riggs announced the creation of the Public Integrity Division (PID), a civilian arm which took in the civilians from IAB and a Conduct Review Unit. At the time, a consultant opined that the PID would become the national gold standard, as it was totally staffed by civilians. The PID had replaced the IAB after a review of data that was part of a performance improvement review of IAB, with Sheriff Hancock noting, “…the design of the current process isn’t working and we owe it to our employees and the community to find a workable solution.”
With the establishment of PID the Sheriff’s Department still screened cases, and had the final say on discipline. It was a huge step in reform, a seemingly independent investigative group who would investigate and determine discipline, but Iriart noted that “the Sheriff’s Department still screened the cases and decided who was to be disciplined, it was a situation destined to fail.”
On March 20, 2019 an incident occurred between Deputy Jason Gentempo and inmate Serafin Finn during a transport. Finn, sitting in a wheelchair, spat on Gentempo while restrained in iron leg cuffs and handcuffs. A video appears to show Gentempo immediately punching Finn in the head with a left hook, knocking him down with his wheelchair. Iriart got the case, and everyone in PID said it was a “strike” meaning a slam dunk case. It was excessive use of force, and Iriart investigated it thoroughly, and interviewed Gentempo. He went “full deniability” which Iriart was not expecting since there was a clear video of him striking Finn. Iriart also knew that lying in an internal affairs interview is automatic termination. Iriart gave “ample opportunity to Gentempo to tell some kind of story to explain the strike, and she felt she was helping him save his job by giving him some excuses to use, but he continually denied hitting anyone.” The interview ended, and Iriart was sure that by lying to an internal affairs investigator Gentempo would lose his job as the incident was on tape.
A year later, the case was finally processed through the Public Discipline Section (PDS), and they analyzed everything, coming up with a multi-page report with a summary and discipline. PID recommended eighteen days suspension for excessive use of force by Gentempo, mitigated by the spit; thirty days for Gentempo lying in his report; and termination of Gentempo for lying to Iriart. Iriart had access to all reports in the case, and tracked the progress and noted the final adjudication in April 2020.
Although Gentempo never accepted responsibility for punching Finn, Iriart was told that because the Sheriff was up for election, the deputy was well-liked in the department, and it was beneficial to keep the story out of the media, a full exoneration of Gentempo was going to happen.
Iriart knew Gentempo should have been fired for lying to an investigator of PID, but she was told to “stay in her lane, your role is not discipline.” The draft report in the Gentempo case disappeared and Iriart was told the video of the punch by Gentempo was too grainy. Iriart was also told that the case did not meet the preponderance of evidence, that it looked like a grab/push, and not a punch. Iriart was also told that Gentempo did not “intentionally mean to lie.”
After exoneration, Gentempo had another excessive use of force, and got caught on tape again. Assigned to this new case, Iriart found out that Gentempo would not meet with her, and would only talk to her supervisor, telling her supervisor that he did not think Iriart liked him. Iriart was treated dismissively, and found that she had no backing.
On June 3, 2020, Iriart provided the case number of the Serafin Finn case to Rob Low at Fox 31 Denver and told him to look at it. He subsequently ran a story along with the video showing Gentempo punching Finn in the head with a left hook. Gentempo always claimed that he was merely blocking the spit of Finn, and when asked to explain the punch on the video, Gentempo noted that “the video showed what it showed.” A Denver criminologist viewed the video and noted it showed Gentempo punching the 61-year-old inmate and there was “no excuse for that.”
Mary Dulacki, Deputy Director of Public Safety, Denver noted on television, “we did not find it significant enough to say that he had committed a deceptive act” even though an independent monitor had recommended firing Gentempo for a deceptive act. Dulacki stated “I don’t think he punched him. I don’t see that and reasonable people can disagree.” Gentempo noted, “I did not hit him. I did not hit his face. I did not injure him whatsoever.” Dulacki also noted that once a deputy is spat on, the deputy is allowed to respond with physical force. Dulacki took the dual stand that Gentempo did not hit the inmate, and even if he did, he was allowed to because it is considered assault if you are spit upon. Dulacki noted that lying to Iriart about hitting Finn was not significant and did not rise to a deceptive act.
Iriart had discussed her whistleblower situation with her mother, and was disappointed to hear her mother warn her, “It is not going to do anything for you, nothing is going to change, and all that is going to happen is that bad things are going to come to you.”
On the same day as the television report, Iriart was asked if she was the one that leaked the reports, and she advised she was not the source, but immediately regretted it, and admitted she was the source. Iriart was confused as to why there would be any question concerning whether Gentempo hit Finn, and posted the video to her private Facebook page, where people responded it was a definite strike. A deputy saw the Facebook posting and reported it to Iriart’s supervisor who listed it as a confidentiality agreement violation.
On June 5th, 2020, Gentempo launched an attack against Iriart, advising her supervisor that she was biased and overly aggressive. While all this was going on, Iriart was asked to testify before the House of Representatives on police reform which she agreed to, but found work matters moving quickly. She attempted to log into her work computer, and found herself locked out. Her boss told her to bring her computer and all her identification to work, and when she asked why, he responded she would find out when she got there.
Upon arriving at her work, she was met in a conference room with her boss and a Human Resources individual who told her she was being placed on investigative administrative leave. They would not tell Iriart why she was being placed on leave, nor give her any inkling of what was happening. Iriart knew administrative leave was the “kiss of death” as far as her job was concerned, and requested that she be allowed to pack up her stuff, having the feeling that she would not be allowed back in the building. Knowing she was appearing before the House of Representatives to testify on police reform, she noted before she left, “if Mary Dulacki did not like me now, she certainly was not going to like her tomorrow because she will be seeing this face tomorrow.” Iriart was referring to her upcoming appearance at the House of Representatives, but later, it was noted as a personal threat against Dulacki.
Iriart went home and sat in a corner, traumatized. She saw the light of day disappear, replaced by the darkness of night, and then the light of day appeared again. She sat there, realizing that what had happened was done to make her feel small. The next day she testified before the House of Representatives concerning police reform, about the broken disciplinary process for officers and the need for real law enforcement reform and accountability. The retaliation against Iriart got worse.
Iriart, like most whistleblowers, found herself “kicked out of my tribe, people were told not to talk to me.” She was vilified in the press, her superiors said she was not a whistleblower, that she had made threats, and they said things that were just not true. “Reputation” said Iriart, “is all I have and they trashed it in order to keep the cover up of corruption. They said I was crazy, a typical remark for women whistleblowers. I was not prepared for the onslaught, and my body went into a fight or flight mode for six months. I really thought they would fix and reform law enforcement, but they made me the bad guy.”
Iriart was subsequently interviewed twice, once on July 9, 2020 and later on July 27, 2020. The first time was with the city attorney and Iriart was only asked a few questions. The second time she was interviewed, it appeared they were looking for anything to use against her. The Contemplation of Discipline hearing was September 2020, and Iriart noted “they threw everything at me.” There were six allegations, one being that Iriart intimidated people. The second allegation was that she lied to her supervisor when he asked her if she leaked. The third allegation was posting on her private Facebook page the video played by Fox 31, noting it as a confidentiality breach. The fourth allegation was leaking to the media, the fifth allegation was lack of candor, and the last allegation was the alleged threat against Dulacki.
People had told Iriart just to be humble, but she hated “taking a knee.” Iriart had been told that she would hear the result of her disciplinary hearing in one month, but days later she received termination papers noting her last day of employment would be October 1, 2020. Iriart wanted to appeal the decision, but her attorney told her it would cost $30,00 to appeal, and Iriart did not have the resources.
Iriart looked for a job but realized she was blacklisted in the Colorado law enforcement community. Iriart made the decision, with little support, to remain in the fight, securing a new lawyer and having a mediation date of July 26th, 2021. People told Iriart that she was going to fail, that she would not make a difference, and all her sacrifices would be for nothing. She refused to accept any of those claims, knowing that the only person capable of telling her what she was capable of was herself.
Iriart recently won her mediation case, and learned “integrity is seen as a liability and not as a desired commodity.” She is moving to another city, outside of Colorado. She is changing her name, and starting anew. Iriart is refusing to allow others to define her, and noted “at the end of the day, I am still standing. I can look myself in the mirror knowing that my integrity is intact and that I spoke out against the very things that are wrong with the criminal justice system. I now carry the whistleblower label. A title that is revered by some but condemned by others. I choose to wear it as a badge of honor.”
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