Colorado Springs police pulled over a pair of black brothers in a white neighborhood last year without telling them the reason for the traffic stop, pulling both men out the car at gunpoint and frisking them before handcuffing them.
The passenger of the car, Ryan Brown, began recording and narrating the scene until he was shoved face first into the snow. His phone was pried out of his hand, turned off and tossed aside.
When the Colorado Springs police officers were satisfied that neither of the brothers were carrying guns – not that they ever had probable cause that they had guns – they cited the driver.
Benjamin Brown was cited with having no insurance, a modified exhaust and a cracked windshield – offenses that were conjured after the detainment.
They also ticketed Ryan for resisting/interfering for apparently recording and not providing identification, even though as passenger in the car, he was not required to provide identification given the circumstances that they did not even provide a reason why they were pulling them over.
The incident took place in March about a block from their home in a neighborhood where only five percent of residents are black. The video quickly went viral.
Last week, with the help of the ACLU, Ryan and Benjamin Brown filed a lawsuit against the Colorado Springs Police Department alleging racial profiling, which you can read here.
Colorado Springs police officer David Nelson, who has a reputation among fellow officers of overly aggressive tactics, claims he pulled them over because he had spotted them a couple of hours earlier driving in a “high-crime area,” which are Constitution-free zones that the courts allow the cops to define.
But the lawsuit states that the brothers were nowhere near that area. They had only gone to the store to buy bread and were driving it back home where they lived with their parents.
When Nelson asked for Benjamin Brown’s driver license, the young man said he did not have it on him, but informed the officer he lived right up the street and would be happy to take the officer there to show him.
Meanwhile, Ryan Benjamin, sitting in the passenger seat, began to ask Nelson why had they been pulled over, a question that Nelson ignored, even though departmental policy requires officers to state the reason why they pulled somebody over.
That was when Nelson opened the driver-side door and ordered Benjamin to step out. And that was when Ryan Benjamin began recording.
Standing behind the car was Colorado Springs police officer Allison Detweiler, who later told investigators that Nelson began to needlessly escalate the situation.
But she still pulled out her gun and aimed at Ryan when she saw Nelson pull out his Taser and threaten Benjamin with it.
Nelson frisked Benjamin, then handcuffed him and placed him in the back of his patrol car, even though he found no drugs or weapons.
Nelson then pulled Ryan out of the car and threw him on the ground, shoving his face into the snow, even though Ryan was not resisting.
Ryan was then frisked and placed in the back of a patrol car, even though they found no drugs or weapons.
The brothers later filed a complaint with the department, but received a form letter from internal affairs, informing them that the officers’ actions were “justified, legal and proper.”
Charges against Ryan were dismissed and Benjamin was “coerced” into pleading guilty to Obstruction of View or Driving Mechanism charge, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleges that the department knew Nelson was a loose cannon, but did nothing to prevent it from happening again.
Officer Detweiler explained in her internal affairs interview that it was a “known thing” in their department that Officer Nelson “is super excitable and he escalates very rapidly,” and “sometimes escalates things more than they need be.” She explained that this unnecessary escalation happens “often.” Sergeant Biscaro corroborated her characterization of Officer Nelson. During his interview, Biscaro described Officer Nelson as “a BB in a boxcar to start with, so he’s kind of excitable.” Upon information and belief, at the time of this incident, the City leadership and Sgt. Biscaro were aware of past incidents in which Officer Nelson inappropriately escalated during an encounter with members of the public and, as a result, engaged in unnecessary force. Yet, the City took no action or plainly insufficient action to better supervise or train Officer Nelson and thereby protect individuals such as Ryan and Benjamin from this foreseeable misconduct. Indeed, even after reviewing the evidence in this case, the City fully ratified Officer Nelson’s conduct, rendering it more foreseeable that similar unconstitutional misconduct will reoccur in the future.
One explanation is that Nelson’s supervisor, Sergeant Steven Biscaro, also has a history of violence.
In January 2016, he was arrested for threatening to kill a handcuffed man while choking him until he gasped for air, a felony for which he was acquitted last month.