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Colorado Law on Police Officer Liability Being Tested by Notorious Video Incident

2021-02-01 22:14:25
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A new Colorado law that allows individual police officers to be charged will soon be undergoing a major test.

Four black girls who were accidentally held at gunpoint by Colorado police over a suspected stolen car filed a civil lawsuit against police and the town of Aurora in Arapahoe County District Court last week. One of the girls' mothers, the driver of a car that turned out not to have been stolen, is also a prosecutor in the case.

Under the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act, a police reform law passed after protests over racial injustice in 2020, officers can be held financially liable for any verdicts handed down in the case.

The August 2020 incident drew national attention after a video of the four girls being detained was posted on social media.

Aurora police apologized after the video taken by a bystander showed the girls in a parking lot with the 17-year-old and a 12-year-old lying on their stomachs with their hands cuffed behind their back. A 14-year-old girl was lying on their stomach next to the car in addition to the 6-year-old.

The traffic stop took place in Aurora, where agents are also under investigation after the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain after being placed in a stranglehold last year.

How private insurance can all be involved in this is not yet clear. It was not immediately known whether the individual officials named in the lawsuit are insured, and Aurora is confident and not part of an insurance pool, city spokesman Ryan Luby said.

When the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act was passed, the liability for individual officers was increased. Some in the Colorado insurance community questioned whether private insurance would cover officers charged in the performance of their duties, even if the department or the officers were held legally accountable for their actions.

Liability coverage, assuming it is under homeowners insurance, does not cover intentional or deliberate acts.

Each officer could potentially be liable for $ 20,000.

The suit names five Colorado officers and the city of Aurora.

"Without any justification, agents Kwon, Mason, Dasko, Moen and Drexel (" officer defendants ") confiscated agents Kwon, Mason, Dasko, and Drexel of the Aurora Police Department and the four underage prosecutors accompanying her," the indictment said. . The officer defendants did so in the most gruesome and terrifying way: by directing loaded weapons at the plaintiffs and forcing them out of their cars at gunpoint. Officer defendants then forced the underage plaintiffs to lie face down on the floor. "

The action targets Aurora and the police officers for unlawful seizure, excessive force, and denial of equal protection by law in violation of the Colorado Constitution.

The lawsuit, which notes that none of the officers was punished over the mater and continues to work with police officers in the city, seeks declaratory and interim relief, economic damage to be assessed at trial, damages, punitive damages, a formal written apology of each accused, policy changes and disciplinary action.

David A. Lane, with Killmer, Lane & Newman LLP, is one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.

He noted that the lawsuit raises a number of previous incidents of allegedly discriminatory behavior by the local police.

"We're going to show that Aroura has a pattern of racist law enforcement," Lane said. & # 39; We want to teach Aurora a lesson. We want to change their behavior. "

Marc Sears, president of the Brotherly Oder Police in Aurora, did not respond to requests for comment.

Luby said the city is still analyzing the lawsuit and that it would be inappropriate to comment on ongoing disputes.

He made the following statement on behalf of the city:

Aurora city council and police chief Vanessa Wilson have previously indicated that this incident does not match their expectations for the Aurora police. Chief Wilson has apologized directly to Ms. Gilliam and offered to cover the costs of providing age-appropriate therapy to the affected children. Although the officers followed protocol and were training at the time of the incident, Chief Wilson and licensed city government officers must have discretion and the ability to deviate from that process when different scenarios arise. Aurora has since modified its training practices by giving agents greater discretion when contacting suspected stolen vehicles. "

Lane also believes that it will not be difficult to demonstrate the wrongdoing in this case.

"It's all on video," said Lane. "There really are no actual disputes here."

He said the officers have so far escaped punishment or accountability.

The 18th judicial prosecutor reviewed the incident with regard to and declined to press charges against any of the officials involved.

"They don't admit they've done anything wrong," Lane said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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