ACLU Case No. 15-02
In a lawsuit filed on October 12, 2016 against Colorado Springs police officers and the City of Colorado Springs, the ACLU of Colorado charged that Ryan and Benjamin Brown were victims of the police department’s “custom and practice” of engaging in racially-biased policing and carrying out groundless, racially-motivated stops and searches.
In 2015, the lawsuit asserts, Ryan and Benjamin Brown were pulled over because of their race, handcuffed, searched, and detained at gun point and taser point, all without legal justification. Despite a video recording that clearly showed the officers drawing their weapons, refusing to identify the reason for the stop, and using unnecessary force, an internal affairs investigation concluded that the officers’ actions were “justified, legal, and proper.”
According to the ACLU lawsuit, “Colorado Springs has a custom, policy, and/or practice of doing the following to minority individuals: (1) engaging in racial profiling at the initial stop of individuals; (2) searching them without reasonable suspicion that they are armed or dangerous; and (3) unnecessarily detaining them for extended periods of time in an effort to build some basis for arrest.”
African-American males are stopped by the Colorado Springs Police Department as much as 161% more often than would be expected based on their proportion of the population, according to the complaint.
Ryan and Benjamin Brown were driving just a block away from their home in a predominantly white neighborhood when they were pulled over by Colorado Springs police. To justify the stop, an officer later claimed that the men had been observed earlier in the day driving slowly through “a high crime area,” terminology that the complaint asserts is law enforcement code for “driving while black.”
A taser-wielding officer ordered Benjamin Brown, the driver, out of the car. He was handcuffed, searched without cause, and detained in the back of a police vehicle, even though he had been cooperative, no weapons or contraband were found, and there was no evidence to suggest that he had been involved in a crime.
Ryan Brown then began recording the scene on his phone. His repeated requests for the officers to identify the reason for the stop were ignored. Officers worked together to force him out of the car, push him to the ground, face down in the snow, search him, and cuff him, all the while at gunpoint.
While dragging Ryan Brown out of the car, officers on the video are heard saying that he is not under arrest and that they were just checking him for weapons. No weapons were found. Officers grabbed his phone and threw it in the snow.
Brown filed a complaint with the department following the incident. He received a brief boilerplate letter in June informing him that police had conducted a “complete and thorough” investigation into the incident and concluded that the officers’ conduct was “justified, legal, and proper.”
The ACLU lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages. The case is being litigated by Killmer and Andy McNulty of Killmer, Lane & Newman, as well as Silverstein and ACLU staff attorneys Sara Neel and Rebecca T. Wallace.
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