Wednesday, October 12, 2016

ACLU sues city over "racially-based policing"

Posted By on Wed, Oct 12, 2016 at 11:08 AM

The city of Colorado Springs was sued Wednesday morning by two black men that the ACLU of Colorado alleges were targeted in a traffic stop in March 2015 because they're black.
click to enlarge Ryan Brown says he was unfairly targeted by police because he's black. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Ryan Brown says he was unfairly targeted by police because he's black.
We've written about the case of Ryan and Benjamin Brown in the past ("Obstructed view," Nov. 18, 2015), and also about the Colorado Springs Police Department's record involving minorities in traffic stops, hiring and promotion. ("Targeting or happenstance," June 1, 2016)

The city traditionally has not commented on pending litigation, but we asked for a comment anyway. If we hear back, we'll update.

Here's the petition filed Wednesday:

It's only the latest headache for Police Chief Pete Carey, who's been dogged with problems for more than a year. The Independent has reported over the last eight months that his department lost its certification from the Police Officers Standards and Training board, was kicked out of the military surplus program after not properly accounting for an M16, lost track of a vehicle take-home list that contained officers' rank and home addresses which fell into the hands of drug dealers, and saw crime rates soar in the last year after diverting patrol officers to special units that left street cops vulnerable and shorthanded. ("Are we less safe?" Aug. 24, 2016)

(Carey didn't give the Indy an interview for the crime rates story but three weeks later announced he was shutting down some special units to return officers to the streets in order to beef up patrols.)

Despite all of those problems, Mayor John Suthers has supported Carey and even allowed him to stay beyond his mandatory retirement date.

The ACLU of Colorado's news release:
DENVER – In a lawsuit filed this morning against Colorado Springs police officers and the City of Colorado Springs, the ACLU of Colorado charged that two young African-American men 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 without cause, 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.”

“This is a clear-cut case of racial profiling,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “Ryan and Benjamin Brown were stopped because of the color of their skin. There is no place for such racially-biased policing in a country dedicated to equal justice under the law.”

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.”

“That the Colorado Springs Police Department saw nothing wrong with the conduct of its officers in the stop of Ryan and Benjamin Brown speaks volumes about the department’s culture and mentality when it comes to the constitutionally-protected rights of Black men,” said ACLU cooperating attorney Darold W. Killmer of Killmer, Lane & Newman LLP.

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.


Watch Ryan Brown’s video recording of the stop:

Read the letter from the Colorado Springs Police Department clearing the officers of wrongdoing:

Visit the ACLU case page:

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