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Police committee delivers list of recommendations for how cops investigate brutality 

A force for change?

click to enlarge Alexis Acker suffered two broken teeth and more. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Alexis Acker suffered two broken teeth and more.

A lawsuit filed against the city and former Colorado Springs Police Officer Tyler Walker has been settled for $100,000 and dismissed with prejudice, a city spokesperson confirms. The suit accused Walker of slamming then-18-year-old Alexis Acker to the ground in an incident captured on video at Memorial Hospital.

The November 2013 incident, one of several highlighted in the Indy's "Full Force" series last year, wasn't investigated by the Colorado Springs Police Department's Internal Affairs Division until July 2014 — three months after a letter of notice was sent to the city threatening a lawsuit.

The investigation concluded a year later, and some disciplinary action was taken, though details of that action were withheld from the public. Walker left the department several months later of his own accord.

The CSPD has never addressed why the case languished for so long after it happened without so much as a second look, and a newly released report on use of force within the department doesn't shed any light on that question.

Though there's no such reference in the report, one of the findings might be tied to the Walker case.

Walker had been verbally assaulted and kicked by a physically combative Acker for hours before he took her to the hospital to be medically cleared before she was jailed for being intoxicated and assaulting an officer. Her hands were cuffed behind her back when Walker pushed her into a chair and her leg flew up toward his groin. Walker then slammed her to the floor face-first.

Without citing specific cases, the use-of-force committee report recommends that an officer who's been assaulted be removed from dealings with the perpetrator and that another officer be assigned to investigate and process the prisoner.

"Officers should not be put in the position to further interact with a suspect who has assaulted him/her," the committee writes.

The report — based on a review conducted by seven police personnel and an El Paso County Sheriff's Office bureau chief — also calls for better training, as well as guidance for investigating and documenting use-of-force cases.

The study was sought by Mayor John Suthers a year ago, possibly in response to police brutality cases elsewhere that grabbed the national spotlight, although Suthers didn't explicitly referenced them.

"I asked the chief to look at the process," Suthers said during a meeting with City Council last week, expressing confidence in the department. "This is a tough time for law enforcement in America. We have a highly accredited department. I think we are attracting good quality officers."

Suthers didn't connect his concerns to the local use-of-force cases. though the Indy reported last year that CSPD officers had been accused of using excessive force 209 times between 2011 and April 2015, which is when the internal review was conceived.

Just three of those cases were ruled valid by a procedure that asks officers to evaluate one another. The Indy also reported the city had paid approximately $400,000 to settle excessive-force cases in recent years, not including the Acker settlement.

Police Chief Pete Carey has said he will adopt all 11 recommendations from the committee, which reviewed 104 cases chosen at random. According to the report, the committee found just one case it considers to have been erroneously ruled valid. The committee concludes a complaint of use of excessive force should have been sustained in that instance.

The committee disagrees with recommendations in 30 other cases, none of which impacted whether an officer was judged culpable or not. For example, the committee found eight cases originally ruled as "not a policy violation" should have resulted in exonerations.

The committee recommends the department provide clearer guidance on labeling cases as unfounded and exonerated; re-examine what "investigative guidance" and evidence are needed to conclude a case; better define the identification of use-of-force policy violations; find ways to improve documentation of cases; and better train officers in use of force.

Colorado ACLU Executive Director Mark Silverstein, isn't impressed with the report. "I think that now that the police have investigated themselves and declared they have no problems, I think the public can be reassured there's nothing wrong with the Police Department," he says, facetiously.

The ACLU took on a case involving Ryan and Benjamin Brown, who were pulled from their vehicle in March 2015 after being stopped for no apparent reason. Yet, the CSPD ruled the stop was justified, legal and proper.

While the use-of-force report doesn't address any specific cases by name, one recommendation calls for the CSPD to "consider additional training based on current best practices in use of force as well as traffic or pedestrian stops." That recommendation is termed "a proactive suggestion for continuous improvement in an area that has high liability for the department."

Silverstein says he's not encouraged by the use-of-force report's findings or recommendations: The Brown brothers' case underscores how the officers operate, ruling as justified and proper an officer's almost immediate response with force by pulling a weapon and dragging Ryan Brown to the ground.

"They basically sent a message to all African-American young people," Silverstein says, "that this is what they ought to expect from the police if you ask the officer the reason for the stop."

But, Silverstein notes, the report won't end the ACLU's scrutiny. "We will be continuing to pay attention to how the Colorado Springs Police Department interacts with citizens, and certainly when we get calls and letters with specific complaints, we're going to investigate them," he says.

  • A force for change?

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