May 15, 2020
DENVER – In a lawsuit filed in federal court today, ACLU of Colorado charged that three Colorado Springs police officers, with their employer’s blessing, engaged in racial profiling and biased policing when they targeted Corey Barnes, a Black resident of the Springs, and detained him without cause, handcuffed him without justification and searched him illegally.
“The color of a person’s skin does not provide reasonable suspicion of criminal activity,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “The police had no grounds to detain, handcuff and search Mr. Barnes simply because he’s Black.”
The ACLU’s complaint recounts that on May 15, 2018, numerous officers arrived at a multi-building apartment complex, where they searched for a juvenile suspect. Police communications identified that suspect as a Black male, fifteen years old, with a long afro haircut, wearing a zippered hoodie, who had ducked into a specific apartment in a specific building of the complex. Despite having heard that description of the suspect, the officers unjustifiably detained, handcuffed and searched Mr. Barnes. They carried out this unjustified intrusion even though Mr. Barnes was 29 years old, not fifteen; he had very short hair, not a long afro; he was wearing a T-shirt, not a zippered hoodie; and he was outside, in the parking lot, not inside the building. The lawsuit concludes that the officers “stopped and handcuffed Mr. Barnes only because he was walking while Black.”
“Even after a fellow officer advised that Mr. Barnes was not the suspect, the officers failed to release him,” said ACLU Staff Attorney Arielle Herzberg. “Instead, they kept him handcuffed, searched his pockets and wallet, and called in a warrants check before releasing him. Then, they wrote deliberately misleading reports claiming that they released him when they learned he was not the suspect.”
The lawsuit asserts that the violations of Mr. Barnes’ constitutional rights are part of a longstanding pattern of racially biased policing that has plagued the Black community in Colorado Springs for years. In addition to citing a string of particular incidents, lawsuits, and settlements, the ACLU lawsuit presents statistics showing that Colorado Springs police have a history of racially disparate traffic stops, arrests and uses of force. The lawsuit further asserts that Colorado Springs fails to adequately investigate and impose discipline when citizens allege misconduct, including racially biased policing.
While the incident may appear to involve a minimal invasion into Mr. Barnes’ life, the real impact of this case, and many others, is the emotionally damaging story of racial profiling and humiliation that Black individuals face on a daily basis in Colorado Springs.
“Being stopped in Colorado Springs for being Black is not uncommon,” Mr. Barnes said. “My case is not unique. This needs to stop happening to Black men.”
Today’s lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Denver, charges violations of the Fourth Amendment, which forbids unreasonable detentions, handcuffing, and searches, as well as the Equal Protection Clause, which prohibits racial discrimination. Defendants are the City of Colorado Springs and officers Carlotta Rivera, Katelyn Burke, and William Watson.
The ACLU of Colorado is the state’s oldest civil rights organization, protecting and defending the civil rights of all Coloradans through litigation, education and advocacy.