City to pay $212K to settle lawsuit over racial profiling

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - The city of Colorado Springs has settled a lawsuit with the ACLU regarding a police traffic stop two years ago.

Ryan Brown said he started filming after his brother was ordered out of the car at Taserpoint. Brown was eventually pulled out of the car too, and the police report says his phone was then taken away from him. This image is a still from the video. (Credit: Ryan Brown)

The city will pay $212,000 to settle the suit, which alleges that brothers Ryan and Benjamin Brown were racially profiled when they were pulled over and later detained in March 2015.

The city says the money for settlements comes from the claims reserve fund, a "self-insured fund." The funding is through the general fund and municipal enterprises such as parking and the airport. There was about $1 million in the fund prior to the settlement.

Passenger Ryan Brown told 11 News after the incident he and his brother were doing nothing wrong when police pulled them over on a snowy day. When his brother Benjamin told officers David Nelson and Allison Detwiler that he didn't have his license, Ryan says the officers pulled out a Taser and ordered Benjamin out of the car.

Ryan hit "record" on his camera and filmed the rest of the stop. He later posted the video to YouTube and sent the police report to 11 News.

The video shows Ryan demanding to know why he was pulled over and informing Officer Nelson that he was recording, as Nelson asks him to show identification. As Ryan hands his ID over Nelson tells him to keep his hands visible. Ryan shifts the camera to the driver's side, where viewers can see his brother being cuffed and frisked outside the car. Eventually, Ryan is taken out of the vehicle by Nelson and pushed to the ground. Officer Detwiler can be heard off-camera telling Ryan, "we're just checking for weapons."

The police report states Ryan was becoming uncooperative during the stop. The American Civil Liberties Union said the incident was a classic case of "driving while black."

“I told the officer unless [Benjamin’s] under arrest, he has no reason to get out of the car. As you can see from the video, it's snowing and everything. My brother is in shorts; why does he need to get out of the car? Why is that necessary?" Brown told 11 News.

The ACLU announced Thursday the Colorado Springs Police Department has agreed to revise its policies on traffic stops and searches.

"Multiple Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) policies have been improved as a result of the settlement," the ACLU said in a statement. "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."

The Colorado Springs Police Department released the following in regards to the case:

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 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.

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.

Click here to review CSPD'S most recent Annual Use of Force report.