Ryan Brown Cleared, But ACLU Wants Cops to Justify On-Video Face-Planting

Ryan Brown being cuffed while face down in snow after a March traffic stop. Additional images and a video below.
Ryan Brown being cuffed while face down in snow after a March traffic stop. Additional images and a video below.

Update: In June, we followed up on our reporting about brothers Ryan and Benjamin Brown, whose alleged mistreatment by two Colorado Springs police officers was captured on video; see our previous coverage below.

Now, all charges have been dropped against Ryan Brown, the person who recorded the bust. But the ACLU of Colorado wants to see the internal affairs file pertaining to the two officers whose actions were determined to be justified — and thus far, the CSPD hasn't been forthcoming.

According to ACLU of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein, the request for the documents was made on Friday, September 25 — and as of this morning, the organization has received no response.

A brief recap of the incident: This past March, the Browns were driving a block from their house when they were pulled over by two officers because of a cracked windshield. One of the law enforcers, armed with a taser, ordered Benjamin, who'd been behind the wheel, out of the car, even though he had been fully cooperative, the ACLU maintains. He was handcuffed, searched and placed in the back of the police cruiser.

Meanwhile, Ryan was forced out of the car at gunpoint and pushed face-down into snow even though the video shows he took no aggressive action against the officers. Instead, he merely asked them a series of questions, most of which were ignored.

In the end, Benjamin was cited for the windshield crack, while Ryan was accused of interfering with official police duties. This last charge went away last week, but Silverstein believes Ryan's complaint against the officers has yet to be properly addressed.

"I view his complaint as being about the conduct of the officers," Silverstein says, "and their conduct certainly requires justification. The internal affairs investigation concluded that the officers did, in fact, do the things that Ryan Brown asserted, but the officers' actions were deemed 'justified, legal and proper.' And we want to see how the police department could possibly have concluded that — how they could come to that conclusion after watching what we saw on video."

Continue to see the footage and learn more about the case from our previous coverage.

Benjamin being put in handcuffs.
Benjamin being put in handcuffs.

Original post, 9:50 a.m. June 25: Last month, we told you about an incident during which brothers Ryan and Benjamin Brown were pulled over by two Colorado Springs police officers for what turned out to be a cracked windshield.

It was a minor infraction — but within minutes, Benjamin was in cuffs and Ryan was face down in snow.

We know this because Ryan captured the entire incident on cell-phone video; see the complete clip below.

Despite this rough treatment, Benjamin was accused of driving with an obstructed view and Ryan was cited "for obstructing and resisting," ACLU of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein told us.

The ACLU will defend the Browns in criminal court — but the law enforcers in the case have already been exonerated by their employer. A letter sent to Ryan by a representative of the Colorado Springs Police Department (it's at the bottom of this post) determined that the actions of Dave Nelson, the main officer in question, were "justified, legal and proper."

This response frosts Silverstein, who says in a statement, "No reasonable person could watch Ryan’s video and conclude that two young white men would have been treated the same way."

As we've reported, the clip, recorded on March 25, begins with Ryan, in the front passenger seat of the vehicle, asking, "What's the reason you pulled us over, officer?" He adds, "I'm recording this. Police officers pulled us over for no reason. I got this on camera."

At that point, a male officer asks Ryan for identification.

"I have my ID and I'm recording this, just to let you know," Ryan says.

"Pass me your ID, please," the male officer responds. "Keep your hands where I can see them."

"Am I under arrest?" Ryan asks. "You failed to identify yourself, so I don't know who you are."

The female officer aims a gun at the passenger-side window.
The female officer aims a gun at the passenger-side window.

"You know, sir, I'm a police officer with the City of Colorado Springs," the male officer replies.

"You failed to identify yourself," Ryan says.

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The male officer tells him, "You need to cooperate. I just need your ID now."

"You failed to identify yourself," Ryan continues. "My hands are visible. I have the recorder recording. My brother is being put in handcuffs" — and indeed, the camera captures Benjamin's cuffing on the driver's side of the vehicle. "We were pulled over for no reason. He still has not identified why he pulled us over."

A few seconds later, a female officer can be seen apparently pointing a gun at Ryan through the front passenger side window.

"Now I'm being perceived as a threat because we're being pulled over for absolutely no reason," Ryan says.

Around then, the passenger door is opened and the male officer reaches toward Ryan, who asks, "Am I being placed under arrest?"

"You're not under arrest," the female officer says.

"I'm asking for a reason we're being pulled over," Ryan emphasizes.

"I'm not pulling you over," the male officer says as he begins tugging Ryan from the vehicle.

"Why are you pulling me out of car? Sir?" Ryan wants to know. He adds, "Take your hands off of me. I have not did nothing. I have not did nothing. I have no weapons. I have no weapons. You have no reason to pull me out of the car. This is assault."

"Turn around. Turn around," the female officer repeats as her male colleague forces Ryan to the ground and begins putting cuffs on one wrist. Ryan says, "You see this? You see this? Excessive force."

These are the last words heard in the video.

The clip's received a great deal of attention. At this writing, it has received more than 150,000 views and nearly 500 comments, the vast majority of which decry the treatment the brothers received.

Ryan being pulled from the car.
Ryan being pulled from the car.

Ryan supplied the video to the CSPD along with his formal complaint to the internal affairs department about the officers' conduct. Months later, he received what the ACLU describes as a "boilerplate" letter that reads in part:

A complete and thorough investigation was conducted, which included interviews with you, the accused employee(s), and identified witnesses. The investigation disclosed that the act complained of did occur, but was justified, legal and proper.

Silverstein finds this response lacking.

"The ACLU of Colorado is deeply disappointed that the Colorado Springs Police Department has concluded, without explanation, that the officers’ treatment of Ryan and Benjamin Brown was justified and proper,” he states. “The internal affairs decision makes it clear that, when officers removed Ryan and Benjamin from a vehicle at gunpoint, handcuffed them, searched them and detained them, all stemming from a traffic stop for a cracked windshield, it was just business as usual.

“The message to the community, especially young people of color, is that they should expect this kind of treatment from Colorado Springs police during the course of routine traffic stops, That is unacceptable.”

The release on the topic makes no mention of a possible lawsuit over the matter. But it does highlight the subject of another post we published in May: The ACLU is developing what it calls a "mobile justice app" that will allow citizens who've recorded police interactions to immediately send it to the organization for permanent storage — a protection against possible deletion or device seizure by members of law enforcement who may not want a record of what happened to be preserved.

Although the app's not out yet, you can sign up to be informed when it's available by clicking here.

Below is the video, ironically entitled "Our 'perfect' justice system at work!" That's followed by the CSPD letter to Ryan.

Editor's note: The original version of this post stated that the female officer was pointing a Taser at Ryan Brown. After publication, we were contacted by a representative of the ACLU, who says the original police report states that she actually held a gun, not a Taser. The text above has been changed to reflect this information.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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