Just 15 years old and weighing only about 100 pounds, Nathan Roberts was a "real skinny kid," in the words of Don Howard.
So when Nathan began acting out along with a couple of other juvenile patients at the Cedar Springs mental-health facility last July, it shouldn't have required great force to bring him under control, says Howard, a mental-health technician at the facility who worked closely with Nathan.
"The kid is a toothpick," he said.
But when Colorado Springs police officers arrived at the scene to help calm the patients, the way they handled Nathan left Howard shocked and angry.
Unbeknownst to Howard at the time, one of the officers, Dale Huston, had a long track record of misconduct, including a judge's finding that the officer had submitted false evidence in a drug-bust case two years earlier.
Huston did not respond to requests for comment for this story. However, Howard said the patrolman and fellow police Officer Andy Duran confronted Nathan in a "quiet room," where the 15-year-old had been sent to calm down after he had punched some holes in a ceiling. Duran and another Cedar Springs employee held Nathan by the arms, and Huston ordered Nathan to lie down.
"He shook his head, 'no,'" Howard recalls of Nathan's response. Other than that, "he didn't make a move at all, just stood there."
What Huston did to Nathan next took everyone by surprise, Howard says.
"Out of nowhere, this cop just slammed his head hard up against the wall," Howard recalled. Then, according to Howard, Huston "pulled the kid down by the face and attempted to knee him in the face." The officer succeeded in hitting Nathan's face with his thigh, while his knee hit Nathan in the stomach, Howard says.
The incident, Howard says, was so violent that another patient in the room began crying.
Nathan was then taken to the floor, handcuffed and arrested. He was cited with harassment, criminal mischief and resisting arrest, and released back into Cedar Springs' custody. He later complained of a headache and dizziness, Howard says.
Two years in jail
Just a few weeks later, senior management at Cedar Springs wrote to the district attorney's office, asking that charges against Nathan be dropped. As it turned out, staff at the facility had neglected to give Nathan his prescribed medications, causing him to act out of control.
Nathan "should not be held accountable for actions which occurred while he was not appropriately medicated for the anxiety which can result in this type of behavior," stated the letter, signed by Cedar Springs' chief executive officer and the facility's medical director.
The district attorney's office declined the request. Now Nathan, who has since turned 16, is serving two years in a juvenile prison. John Newsome, the head of juvenile prosecution for the district attorney's office, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Meanwhile, officers Duran and Huston were cleared of any wrongdoing in an internal-affairs investigation launched at the request of Nathan's father, Jack Roberts, who learned of the incident from Howard. Both officers remain on regular patrol.
Duran also did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story. Neither did the second Cedar Springs employee who Howard says witnessed the incident.
And Cedar Springs' chief executive officer, Kay DeLage, declined to comment, citing patient confidentiality. "I can't talk with you specifically about this or any other situation involving somebody who is a patient here," DeLage said.
"They were lying"
Though the police department will not comment publicly on details of its internal-affairs investigations, Jack Roberts says investigators notified him in September that they had completed their inquiry and had found that Duran and Huston had done nothing wrong.
Nathan had resisted arrest, they told Roberts, and Huston had simply tried to hit a nerve in his leg to bring him down.
Evidently, Roberts says, investigators believed the officers' version what happened over that of Howard, whom they interviewed despite Huston's history of untruthfulness.
"They were lying," Roberts said.
Though Roberts didn't know it at the time, Huston has built a reputation for being fast and loose with the truth, and disregarding defendants' rights, in his four years on the force. The Independent initially detailed Huston's misdeeds in an extensive story that appeared March 1, 2001, and can be reviewed online at www.csindy.com.
In January 2000, charges were dropped against a Colorado Springs man, Arthur Buycks, after Huston pulled him out of his car in a high-crime area and searched his car. District Court Judge Edward Colt ruled that Huston had no reasonable suspicion to justify stopping Buycks.
In another case the same year, District Court Judge Peter Booth found that Huston had submitted false and misleading information on an affidavit to secure a no-knock warrant on the West Side residence of Charles H. Gibbs.
Police reportedly found a loaded gun and methamphetamine in Gibbs' residence, but Judge Booth ended up throwing out the charges against Gibbs due to Huston's conduct.
Gibbs subsequently sued Huston in federal civil court. According to the lawsuit, the police officers who raided his home broke down his front door and fired noise and concussion grenades into his living room one of which exploded near Gibbs' head, causing permanent hearing loss. They also physically assaulted both Gibbs and his girlfriend, the lawsuit alleged.
The city of Colorado Springs ended up settling the case with Gibbs, paying him $35,000.
And last May, Huston was sued once again by Roman Janowiak, who pleaded guilty to possessing marijuana after being pulled over and searched by Huston in May of 2000. Janowiak now claims Huston fabricated evidence to justify the traffic stop. The case is pending in federal court.
Reviews of Huston's employee evaluations show that each year since he was hired by the Colorado Springs Police Department, he's been rated as "effective," the highest rating given. The police department does not release more detailed information on the evaluations of its officers.
Duran, who joined the police department in 2000, has also earned "effective" ratings.
But before joining the police department, Huston spent a decade at the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, whose personnel files contain more revealing details.
In his Sheriff's Office evaluations, Huston was criticized for submitting reports that lacked "crucial" information, and he was regularly criticized for his lack of tactfulness with the public.
"He is stiff and sometimes unapproachable as he exudes a hardened image and treats everybody with indifference," a supervisor wrote in 1995.
In addition, Huston's Sheriff's Office file shows that Huston was court-martialed in 1977 while serving with the Marines at Guantnamo Bay, Cuba, for having fired an M-16A1 rifle at targets. He pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of a weapon and the improper use of deadly force, and was fined, demoted and incarcerated for 36 days.
Jonathan Walker, an attorney with the local public defenders office, says Huston is known among the defense bar for his misconduct. The public defenders' office keeps a running file on Huston, along with a few other local police officers, in an attempt to track their alleged misconduct.
"Whenever anyone here in the office gets a case with his name on it, they take a hard look at it to see if there's any misbehavior," Walker said of Huston.
Never "officially" misbehaved
But Lt. Skip Arms, a spokesman for the police department, notes that despite the lawsuits, the internal-affairs complaints and the rumors circulating among defense attorneys, Huston has never been officially determined to have misbehaved while on the force and should be considered "innocent until proven guilty."
Two years ago, Arms told the Independent that an internal-affairs investigation would be launched against Huston in connection with the Gibbs case. Arms now says the probe never went beyond the "preliminary inquiry" stage, because "there was nothing that rose to the level of requiring a formal investigation."
Just because a judge found that Huston was a not a credible witness, that doesn't necessarily mean that the officer violated any laws or policies, Arms maintained.
But Walker says he doubts the police department's willingness or ability to police itself.
"I think it's generally acknowledged that internal-affairs investigations are more in the nature of CYA [Cover Your Ass] than real investigations," Walker said.
Still, Walker says he doesn't believe the Colorado Springs Police Department has a "major" problem of officer misconduct. And Howard, who is pursuing a master's degree in criminal justice, says he believes most local police are "really great people."
But when the police department appears not to punish the few officers who misbehave, it gives the entire department a bad name, Howard says.
"I think the department needs to have measures to get rid of these bad apples," he said.
Holding them accountable
Last month, Jack Roberts filed a claim against the city of Colorado Springs, asking for $100,000 in damages. The brutality against Nathan "violated Nathan Roberts' right to be free from unreasonable seizures, his right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, and his right not to be deprived of due process of law," states the claim, drafted by attorney Edward LaBarre.
LaBarre also sued Huston in the Gibbs case, though he is no longer representing Roberts.
John Davis, a senior staff member at the city's claims office, said the city is investigating the claim and plans to interview the people involved. "We want to try to gather as much information as we can," Davis said, adding the investigation could take anywhere from several weeks to several months.
Roberts says he will move ahead with a lawsuit against the city if necessary, as well as Cedar Springs, which he blames for causing the incident through neglect.
"If [Nathan] had gotten his medication, none of this would have happened," Roberts said.
On Tuesday, Roberts picketed outside Cedar Springs, holding a sign demanding that Huston be fired. He pledged he'd do whatever it takes to see that Huston and the police department are held accountable.
"They're not going to get away with it," he said.