What started as a night of hot-tubbing with a few friends ended in a humiliating arrest for a Colorado Springs man who sustained abrasions and bruises over much of his body after police dragged him naked down an icy sidewalk and driveway.
In the early morning hours of Feb. 20, police yanked John Winther out of his house, dragged him naked into the front yard of his house, hit him twice in the head, pepper sprayed him in the eyes and mouth, handcuffed him and threw him in the back seat of their patrol car.
Winther, 30, said he, his two roommates and their two girlfriends had been sitting in their hot tub in the fenced back yard of their Cheyenne Canyon home when they were startled by flashlights.
"It scared me," Winther said. "I had no idea that they were the police."
A neighbor had apparently called the police to complain about the noise Winther and his roommates were making. Winther said he realized that officers were trying to climb over the six-foot privacy fence around his rental house, and they told him to go to his front door to talk.
"Diffusing" the situation
Winther ran inside the house, but his roommate, Christopher Thomas, 24, had already gotten to the front door. When Thomas opened it, Winther slammed it closed, and, through the closed door asked the police if they had a warrant. They said no, and Winther told them if they wanted to enter the house, to go get one.
If they had just been told to keep the noise down, Winther said, he and his roommates would have readily complied. Instead, through the closed door, the police demanded the men show some IDs.
Thomas opened the door again, to tell them he was going to go get his identification. But according to Winther and Thomas, the cops grabbed Winther's arm and pulled him out of the house.
When Thomas saw what was happening to his friend, he went outside and demanded the officers give him their names and badge numbers.
They responded, he said, by throwing him to the ground, pepper spraying him and arresting him as well.
"I wasn't trying to resist and I'm bruised up from them arresting me," Thomas said. "I had the handcuffs on for five hours."
DWHT: Drinking while hot-tubbing
The women who were at the house gave the officers clothes for their friends to wear to the police station, but the policemen tossed the clothes in the trunk of the patrol car. The men were escorted naked, in separate police cars, first to the fire department, where they wrapped up Winther's bloody legs, and then to Memorial Hospital so medical personnel could check on their injuries. There, they were given flimsy hospital gowns to cover themselves up.
Winther said police forced him to take a breathilizer test at the hospital. Both men said that they had been drinking at their house before they were arrested, which is not a violation of any law. And, while they cussed at the police officers during their arrests, they said did not threaten or resist them -- and were not so wasted that they didn't know what was happening to them. "We were not out of control," Thomas said.
"I've never been forced into a cop car nude and taken to a hospital nude and publicly humiliated like that in my life," Winther said. "At the hospital I was so mad [the nurses] had to have assumed I was a drunk lunatic."
Both men suffered multiple lacerations and abrasions, and subsequently missed several days of work because they had been so roughed up. The police accused Winther of intentionally making noise while in a hot tub, resisting arrest and public indecency.
"How can you be charged with resisting arrest when you've got three cops on top of you?" Winther said. "If that's the case, then Rodney King was resisting arrest."
Ultimately, the only formal charge filed against Winther was public indecency. He is mortified. He wouldn't have been naked in public, he pointed out, if he hadn't been physically pulled out of his house and taken away in the police car naked.
After their visit to the hospital, Thomas and Winther were processed at the Criminal Justice Center. Winther's bond was $210; Thomas' was $250.
Public nuisance threatened
The men said that police have been to their house a couple of times before, after a neighbor complained they were playing their music too loud. After the latest incident, the men said, one of the officers threatened to contact their landlord and have them evicted as part of the city's public nuisance ordinance that allows police to seize property in cases where patterns of illegal activity occur.
The Colorado Springs City Council adopted the ordinance last year after police argued they needed the measure to target properties, particularly where illegal drugs and alcohol are being distributed. No drugs were involved in last week's arrests.
The men have subsequently filed a complaint against the arresting officers, and have been told it will be reviewed by the Colorado Springs Police Department's internal affairs division.
The officers who made the arrests -- Slate Blanche, Thomas Heath and Mike Sanchez -- a rookie, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Police spokesman Lt. Skip Arms said officers generally don't file reports describing the course of events leading to public indecency charges. That could make a formal review of the officers' witness of events as they detained Winther impossible.
As of press time, officers had not filed a police report detailing the resisting arrest charge against Thomas either.