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CSPD pays $212,000 to settle excessive force case, stills denies wrongdoing

(Up)settled

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Ryan Brown will get $76,000 from CSPD. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Ryan Brown will get $76,000 from CSPD.

The City of Colorado Springs has settled in court and agreed to change police procedures, but still denies any wrongdoing in the case of Ryan Brown.

The case stems from a March 2015 incident in which Officer David Nelson pulled over two brothers, Benjamin and Ryan Brown, who were driving near Austin Bluffs Parkway and Barnes Road.

According to an internal investigation of the incident, Nelson was suspicious that the brothers, who are black, were involved "in some drug activity or some kind of criminal activity." After Benjamin, the driver, rolled down his window only a few inches, Nelson ordered them out of the car. Benjamin complied but Ryan did not (as the officer had not provided a warrant). Taser drawn, Nelson then pulled Ryan out of the passenger seat, slamming him onto the snow-covered ground and holding him down to handcuff him.

See Ryan's cell phone footage of the incident below. It shows the officer did not state a reason for the traffic stop, the frisk or the arrest.

According to the internal investigation file, which the Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) tried to keep secret, the officers who Nelson called for backup thought his actions were over the top. "It's sort of a known thing at Stetson [Hills Police Substation] that he's super excitable and he escalates very rapidly," Officer Alison Detwiler, a veteran on the force, told investigators, noting that at times Nelson "sort of spins out of control."

Charged with obstructing justice, Ryan filed an excessive force complaint. The charges against Ryan were dropped, but the department determined Nelson's actions were "justified, legal and proper." Ryan then contacted the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado (ACLU) which sued.

At the time, ACLU legal director Mark Silverstein said, "This is a clear-cut case of racial profiling." And indeed it wasn't isolated — the complaint claimed that African-American males are stopped by the Colorado Springs Police Department as much as 161 percent more often than would be proportional to their number in the general population.

On April 20, CSPD announced a $212,000 settlement. In a release, CSPD stated, "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."

In an ACLU release, Ryan states, "I knew that what happened to my brother and me was wrong, and that I needed to speak up. 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 policy changes resulted from the settlement, including more explicit constitutional language about when an officer may conduct a pat-down search, the removal of official policy giving undue weight to non-cooperation as probable cause for arrest, and strengthening of the department's stance on recording the police (a constitutionally and statutorily protected right).

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that some information the Independent found was in an internal affairs report, not directly from Officer Detwiler.

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