Fort Collins settles police brutality lawsuit for $125,000
Fort Collins reached a $125,000 settlement with Kimberly Chancellor, the woman who sued the city after an off-duty Fort Collins Police Services officer pinned her to the ground outside her apartment complex in 2017.
The attorney representing Chancellor called the settlement “the tip of the iceberg” in terms of Fort Collins police-related lawsuits.
The city is finalizing another excessive force-related settlement with Natasha Patnode, who planned to sue the city after a former Fort Collins police officer struck her with his fist and baton 50 times, sat on her and tased her while arresting her on suspicion of shoplifting at Target in 2018.
Fort Collins spokeswoman Amanda King confirmed the settlement with Chancellor and the pending settlement with Patnode in an email to the Coloradoan.
Denver attorney David Lane represents both women and has two other pending lawsuits that allege excessive use of force by Fort Collins police. His other clients are Michaella Surat and Sean Slatton. Surat sued the city in 2019 after an officer slammed her to the ground while arresting her outside an Old Town bar in 2017. Bystander video of her arrest went viral.
Slatton sued the city in 2018 after one or more Fort Collins police officers beat him with a baton and pepper-sprayed him. One of the officers named in his lawsuit was Todd Hopkins, who has since resigned. The other is Brandon Barnes.
“My law firm has four cases pending against the Fort Collins police department for using excessive force,” Lane said in a statement provided to the Coloradoan. “Three of the four cases have videos of officers brutalizing women. This settlement is the tip of the iceberg and much more taxpayer money will be spent on cleaning up the messes made by the police department.”
Chancellor sued both the city and Fort Collins Police Officer Stephan Sparacio after an October 2017 encounter. The off-duty officer was riding his personal motorcycle on his way to an assignment when he saw Chancellor speeding in traffic, according to police.
Sparacio followed Chancellor’s car into her apartment complex parking lot. Chancellor, who said in her complaint that she was “extremely nervous” about an unfamiliar man following her, parked and walked quickly toward her apartment building. She said Sparacio started shouting at her, but she ignored him because she feared for her safety.
In a police report filed by Sparacio, he said he saw Chancellor speeding and followed her “to ascertain if there was some sort of emergency. If not, then educate the driver about the potential for serious injury due to operating a large SUV in that manner.”
After Sparacio told Chancellor he was a police officer and threatened to arrest her, he “grabbed (her) arm, shoved his badge in her face, and pulled her back toward her car while demanding her license and registration,” according to Chancellor’s complaint. Chancellor said she began looking through her purse for her license but began to back away from Sparacio because she “maintained suspicions” about his behavior.
She said Sparacio suddenly grabbed her, threw her face-down on the asphalt and pinned her to the ground. Video shot by a bystander shows Sparacio grabbing Chancellor’s arm and taking her to the ground.
The encounter left her with cuts and bruises, according to her complaint. She ultimately pleaded guilty to careless driving, and a charge of obstructing a peace officer was dismissed.
Chancellor’s lawsuit said Sparacio “used greater force than was reasonably necessary,” and that the city has “created and tolerated a custom of deliberate indifference” and failed to adequately train and supervise officers.
More: CSU: Police officer who failed to stop for school bus didn’t see flashing red lights
Sparacio admitted to a physical encounter with Chancellor and admitted that Chancellor “ended up on the ground” as a result, according to his answer to Chancellor’s complaint. He said Chancellor “did not comply with verbal commands” and attempted to flee in the moments leading up to the encounter.
Fort Collins Police Services took “appropriate internal action” to address Sparacio’s decision-making during his encounter with Chancellor, according to a police services statement.
“Our agency’s culture, policies, and training reflect a philosophy of de-escalation,” Fort Collins Police Services Chief Jeff Swoboda said in a statement. “If an individual employee’s actions fall outside of those expectations, a variety of internal and external measures are in place to ensure corrective action and accountability.”
Police conducted an internal review of the incident and referred it to the Citizen Review Board. Both reviews determined Sparacio violated department policies, but only the Citizen Review Board determined he used unnecessary force. Police policy bars officers from “use of unnecessary force in the performance of duty or the mental or physical abuse of any person in custody.”
More: How Northern Colorado police train on use of force, deal with aftermath
The city paid Chancellor using money from the city’s loss fund. Fort Collins City Council didn’t have to approve the settlement because city code allows Fort Collins’ chief financial officer to approve settlements paid from the loss fund.
City council went into executive session Tuesday to discuss “specific legal questions related to settlement of potential litigation regarding certain police matters,” according to the council agenda. King, the city spokeswoman, declined to specify whether Tuesday’s executive session was related to Patnode, but she said the city “has reached agreement with her on a settlement of her claim, and we are in the process of finalizing that settlement with her.”
Patnode hasn’t officially filed a lawsuit, according to court records. Former Fort Collins police officer Todd Hopkins resigned after an internal investigation determined he should be fired over his March 2018 encounter with Patnode.
Hopkins was reportedly driving home from a shift when a shoplifting call came in at Target at 105 W. Troutman Pkwy. He was close by and was the first officer to arrive to the store. Because his shift had just ended, Hopkins was not wearing a body-mounted camera, which was charging at the police station.
Target surveillance footage shows Hopkins grabbing Patnode by the collar, taking her to the ground, using OC spray, and sitting on top of her as he tried to handcuff her while she had one arm either inside of or holding onto her purse underneath her.
Story continues below the video.
Then-interim Police Chief Terry Jones requested a third-party investigation of Hopkins’ actions. The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office conducted an investigation and forwarded its findings to the district attorney’s office, and the DA’s office declined to file criminal charges.
“While disturbing to watch, it should be noted that Ms. Patnode repeatedly ignored commands, refused to remove her hand from underneath her, and refused to surrender the purse, which was also underneath her,” stated District Attorney Cliff Riedel in a letter clearing the officer of criminal wrongdoing. “Those actions by Ms. Patnode only reinforced Officer Hopkins’ concerns that the suspect may have a weapon of some type in her purse.”
Patnode later pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and resisting arrest, and her shoplifting charge was dismissed.
A 2017 Coloradoan review of city lawsuits found seven of the 22 lawsuits or claims involving Fort Collins police filed since 2008 resulted in plaintiffs receiving money.
Payouts in that decade totaled $6,762,000, the Coloradoan found after filing an open records request with the city.
Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support stories like this one by purchasing a digital subscription to the Coloradoan.
Published at Wed, 12 Feb 2020 20:36:00 +0000