“What Ryan and Benjamin Brown experienced at the hands of the Colorado Springs police is sadly all too familiar for young people of color,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “No reasonable person could watch the video recording of the traffic stop and say that two white men would have been treated the same way.”
The two brothers were within a block of their home when they were stopped. Shortly after pulling the car over, an officer opened the driver’s door and, pointing his taser at Benjamin, demanded that he exit the vehicle. The officers immediately handcuffed, searched, and then detained him in the back of a police vehicle, even though he had been fully cooperative, no weapons or contraband were found, and there was no evidence to suggest that he had been involved in any criminal activity.
As his brother was being removed from the car, Ryan Brown began recording the scene on his phone. His repeated requests for the officers to identify the reason for the traffic stop were ignored, despite official Colorado Springs Police Department policy that instructs officers to begin each interaction by advising drivers of what prompted the stop. The video recording catches a quick glimpse of an officer approaching the passenger-side door with a gun raised in a shooting position. Officers worked together to force Ryan from his car, push him to the ground, face down in the snow, search him, and cuff him, all the while at gunpoint.
When dragging Ryan out of the car, officers are heard saying he is not under arrest and that they were just checking him for weapons. No weapons were found. Officers took Ryan’s phone, turned off the video, and threw it in the snow.
Benjamin Brown, who was watching from the back of the police car, feared that his brother was about to be shot. “It seemed like forever,” said Benjamin. “I was scared that the officer was going to pull the trigger.”
“From the beginning, it was the officers, not the two young men, whose outrageous and unlawful actions caused the situation to escalate,” said ACLU of Colorado cooperating attorney Dan Recht of Recht Kornfeld PC, who will represent the Browns in Colorado Springs Municipal Court. “Ryan Brown has been charged with obstructing justice, but, as the video clearly shows, he acted calmly and like a gentleman, even in the face of an unjust stop. There was no justice for him to obstruct.”
The ACLU encourages people to record their interactions with police. This summer, the ACLU of Colorado will launch Mobile Justice, a free smartphone app that allows people to record video that automatically uploads to the ACLU, preventing law enforcement from deleting or destroying it.
The ACLU has also actively supported HB 1290, the first legislation in the country to affirmatively declare a right to record police officers. The bill passed both chambers of the state legislature, and is expected to be signed into law by the Governor.