by Pam Zubeck
The Colorado Springs Police Department, together with the Office of the City Attorney, made the difficult decision to settle the Brown case. Although CSPD sincerely believes the claims of racial profiling were unfounded, the decision to settle was based on comparative analysis of the high cost of legal proceedings and the risk of financial liability in the event the city did not prevail in every aspect of the lawsuit. However, there has been a complete and thorough Internal Affairs investigation of this incident, and it was determined that the actions of the officers did not violate Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) policy.
On several occasions, the ACLU has inaccurately portrayed CSPD as a department that routinely violates citizen’s rights. The public is invited to review CSPD’s most recent Annual Use of Force report (https://cspd.coloradosprings.gov/content/cases-interest) to gain an informed and fact-based opinion of the level of restraint, accountability, and transparency that is central to how CSPD delivers police services.
In the past, the ACLU has failed to “set the record straight” when allegations of misconduct were disproven, as in the Tally case in July 2015. Today’s ACLU announcement follows that same unfortunate practice.
(See Cases of Interest at https://cspd.coloradosprings.gov/content/cases-interest)
Moving ahead, CSPD has issued over 450 body worn cameras which will be able to provide additional information through video footage of patrol officers’ interaction with citizens from initial contact through conclusion. Body worn cameras provide protection both to citizens and to officers in these types of cases and accusations.
The Colorado Springs Police Department remains committed to consistent, fair, and even-handed enforcement of the law. To accomplish that objective, CSPD takes steps to mitigate bias through hiring practices, training, policies, and outreach to diverse communities. Equally important to these steps is the department’s robust internal accountability system. In the event of a complaint of racial bias, the department thoroughly investigates the complaint and takes appropriate action if a policy violation is found.
The City of Colorado Springs has agreed to pay $212,000 to settle a racial profiling lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Colorado alleging that 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.Here's a link to the settlement agreement.
Along with monetary compensation, the Colorado Springs Police Department has agreed to several revisions of its policies on stops, searches, and recording officers.
Ryan Brown posted a video of the 2015 stop online, where it has been viewed more than 165,000 times.
“The racial profiling that Ryan and Benjamin Brown endured is still, unfortunately, all too common for young men of color,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “The difference in this case is that Ryan preserved video evidence of the officers’ aggressive escalation and heavy-handed use of force. Although the police department initially refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing, city officials ultimately did the right thing by agreeing to fair compensation.”
In March 2015, 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 driving slowly through “a high crime area,” terminology that the lawsuit alleged 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. Officers grabbed his phone, stopped the recording, and threw it in the snow.
Brown filed a complaint with CSPD following the incident. He received a brief boilerplate letter in June 2015 informing him that the Department had conducted a “complete and thorough” investigation into the incident and concluded that the officers’ conduct was “justified, legal, and proper.”
In October 2016, the ACLU of Colorado filed the lawsuit in federal court, which began nearly 6 months of negotiation between the parties around policy changes and compensation.
“I knew that what happened to my brother and me was wrong, and that I needed to speak up,” said Brown. “I am grateful to the ACLU of Colorado for holding the police accountable, for standing up for our rights, and for winning policy changes that will hopefully prevent others from having their rights violated.”
Multiple Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) policies have been improved as a result of the settlement. Official CSPD policy now clearly identifies the constitutional requirements that must be met before an officer may conduct a pat-down search. CSPD removed policy language that gave undue weight to an individual’s refusal to cooperate as a factor in establishing probable cause for a search or arrest. CSPD policy on recording police was also strengthened to reflect constitutional and statutory protections against unjustified seizures of electronic devices.
Colorado Springs will make available online all of the changes to its policies as a result of the settlement by July 1, 2017. The Chief of Police has also agreed to meet in person with Ryan and Benjamin Brown to discuss the incident.
Ryan and Benjamin Brown were represented by Silverstein and ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney Sara Neel, as well as cooperating attorneys Darold Killmer and Andy McNulty of Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP.