Inside Lawsuit Over Video Showing Cop Punching Man, Tripping Pregnant Woman

A screen capture from footage obtained by Fox31 last year. Additional images, a video and more below.
A screen capture from footage obtained by Fox31 last year. Additional images, a video and more below.

Last November, we told you about a video in which a Denver police officer could be seen punching a suspect six times in the face — and a pregnant woman was tripped.

Now, the person who shot the clip — Levi Frasier — has filed a lawsuit against the City and County of Denver and several members of the Denver Police Department, alleging that he was threatened and subjected to an illegal search over the footage, which was subsequently aired on Fox31.

The video and images from it are on view below, along with the complete complaint and more.

According to the suit, the incident took place on August 14, 2014, and involved four DPD staffers: Officer Charles Jones, who allegedly did the punching and tripping, plus Officer Christopher Evans, Detective John Bauer and Sergeant Russell Bothwell.

Levi Frasier.
Levi Frasier.

The document adds that none of the officers were disciplined for their actions on that day — and shortly after the video went public, Jones was promoted to sergeant.

What happened? As we've reported, Frasier saw police approach a vehicle occupied by a man subsequently identified as David Flores when the suspect shoved a white sweat sock into his mouth.

The presumption: The sock contained heroin, and Flores was trying to swallow it.

Shortly thereafter, Officer Jones took Flores to the ground, yelling "Spit the drugs out! Spit the drugs out!" And to assist him doing so, Jones punched Flores in the face six times.

Here's one image from the video....

...and another that offers a closer look at Flores amid the pummeling:

As this is going on, a woman with Flores, Mayra Lazos-Guerrero, can be heard screaming. She approaches the scrum and extends her leg, at which point she's tripped to the ground.

Here's one image from that sequence....

..and another:

Frasier captured the activity on his tablet, and the officers noticed, with one of them announcing, "Camera." Afterward, the lawsuit says, Evans demanded to take possession of the device and when he returned it, Frasier couldn't find the video anymore — but he was later able to retrieve it. The Fox31 report said that he was able to sync his tablet to the cloud and find the footage after it was apparently deleted.

Flores, for his part, was badly injured in the melee. Fox31 obtained this shot of him in an ambulance....

...and this one showing a wound on the back of his head, presumably from the impact of his skull on the pavement while he was being slugged:

The police report obtained by Fox31 made no mention of the officers deleting Frasier's video — and when the station offered to screen it for DPD supervisors, they are said to have declined. However, Commander Matt Murray appeared on camera to encourage Frasier to come forward so that the department could investigate the possibility of excessive force and impropriety.

In the days that followed, the DPD released a report about the incident on social media under the title "ACCURACY MATTERS."

The text stressed that neither Frasier nor Flores and Lazos-Guerrero filed complaints against Jones or any of the other officers — but even if they had, the department considered their actions to have been justified. Indeed, the report suggested that preventing Flores from swallowing the heroin may have saved his life and the method used to get him to spit out the sock was the best choice available. The entire piece is available in our previous post, but here's an excerpt:

A violent struggle, prompted by the suspect, was already underway. This left the officers with limited options for recovering the evidence and preventing ingestion and a likely medical emergency. The officer chose not to grab the suspect's throat (to prevent him from swallowing) but instead opted to strike the non-compliant suspect several times. We feel this was the better of the two choices. These strikes did cause the suspect to comply with the arrest and to relinquish the narcotics.

Commander Matt Murray.
Commander Matt Murray.
File photo

Likewise, the department argued pushing Lazos-Guerrero away when she chose to "intervene" was the right call.

Even more interesting was the section pertaining to the alleged deletion of the video. The DPD acknowledged that if an officer or officers removed the clip from the tablet, the actions were highly questionable. However, the report maintained that Frasier told a Fox31 reporter "he didn't know if the officer deleted the video, if he had deleted the video, or if the video had even been deleted at all." The response also quoted him as having told officers after the punch-out "that he felt they had acted correctly."

Frasier's credibility was also questioned. The report stated that he "was released from the Michigan Department of Corrections in the spring of 2014, where he served a lengthy sentence for numerous charges including: breaking and entering, home invasion, and stealing or retaining a transaction device." The item added that Frasier "has six aliases" — monikers typically "derived by either a legal name change, or the illegal use of someone else's name or lying about one's identity to the police."

David Flores.
David Flores.
Denver Police Department

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The DPD suggested that Fox31 should not have reported about the alleged deletion of the video before it had analyzed the tablet to determine if Frasier's claim was supported by evidence — and if that happened, it "was not mentioned in their story."

The lawsuit doesn't specifically accuse the officers of deleting the video. But it makes plenty of other allegations, summed up in this passage:

The officers’ actions violated Mr. Frasier’s First Amendment right under the United States Constitution to record the police performing their official duties in public. The First Amendment protects the right to gather, receive, record, and disseminate information on matters of public importance relating to civil liberties and civil rights, including the official actions of police officers in public.

Mayra Lazos-Guerrero.
Mayra Lazos-Guerrero.
Denver Police Department

Furthermore, the suit maintains that the treatment of Frasier can't be considered an isolated incident.

Rather, police officers in Denver "regularly intimidate, harass and threaten witnesses who they believe are recording or attempting to record them performing their official duties in public. This is a widespread pattern, practice, and custom of Denver police officers."

Likewise, the City and County of Denver is charged with encouraging "this illegal and unconstitutional conduct by police."

Continue to see the original Fox31 package and the lawsuit.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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