Aurora police Chief Dan Oates addresses the media June 25, 2013 at the Aurora Municipal Justice Center. Oates told the media that police may have inadvertently destroyed DNA evidence in nearly 50 cases. (Aaron Cole/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | A federal jury in Denver last month cleared Aurora’s former police chief and other city leaders of wrongdoing in the demotion of a former high-ranking officer.

The ruling means the city and former Chief Dan Oates will not have to pay a dime to former Deputy Chief Ken Murphy. Instead, Murphy could be on the hook for the city’s legal bills.

Murphy, who spent more than 30 years with APD before recently retiring, had charged Oates with violating his First Amendment rights by demoting him for disagreeing with the chief, and said the demotion hampered his chances to become chief when Oates left for a job in Florida.

After a trial that saw Oates travel to Colorado twice to testify, the jury came down against Murphy on both charges.

Deputy City Attorney Peter Morales, who represented the city in the case along with lawyers from Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck, said he was happy with the outcome.

“It’s unfortunate that former Chief Murphy saw things the way he did,” he said.

Murphy testified in May 2013 on behalf of former Lt. Paul Swanson, who was demoted from lieutenant down to patrol officer in 2011 amid allegations that he failed to show up for work as commander of the Metro Gang Task Force.

Swanson appealed his demotion to the city’s Civil Service Commission, which sided with the chief and upheld the penalty. Murphy testified that he didn’t think Swanson, who is his longtime friend, should have been demoted.

The testimony from Murphy, a longtime and popular fixture at APD, became a major issue in Swanson’s hearing.

In the lawsuit, Murphy’s lawyers said testimony clearly irked the police chief.

The lawsuit said Oates told Murphy a few days after he testified that he would be demoted if he did not send out a department-wide email retracting his testimony. Murphy refused and said his testimony was the truth.

Oates said he was offering Murphy a “life line,” Murphy’s lawyer said, and had to demote Murphy when he refused to take it. Murphy’s lawsuit asked for back pay as well as damages for pain and suffering.