We recently reported that Ryan Brown was cleared of any wrongdoing in an incident during which he was face-planted in the snow by Colorado Springs Police Officer Dave Nelson earlier this year, after he and his brother, Benjamin, were pulled over for having a cracked windshield.
Ryan captured video of the incident, which is included below.
Afterward, the ACLU of Colorado renewed its request for documents in the case, with a view toward determining how Nelson's superiors had determined that his actions were "justified, legal and proper."
In recent days, the Colorado Springs Police Department made public three interview documents in the case (see them below) and CSPD Chief Pete Carey issued a statement in which he asked the public "to read the investigation in its entirety in order to make an informed decision."
Unfortunately, according to ACLU of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein, reading the investigation in its entirety isn't possible at this point. He's frustrated that no documents have been shared about how the "justified, legal and proper" decision was reached. And he believes the interviews with Officer Nelson and two other CSPD reps on the scene — Officer Alison Detwiler and Sergeant Steve Biscaro — raise additional questions rather than putting previous ones to rest.
"If anything," Silverstein says, "we have further facts to show that the officer's actions were out of line, unjustified and improper."
As we've reported, the aforementioned 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, Officer Nelson 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," Nelson 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."
"You know, sir, I'm a police officer with the City of Colorado Springs," Nelson replies
"You failed to identify yourself," Ryan says.
Nelson 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, Officer Detwiler, who was called to the scene as backup, 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 Nelson reaches toward Ryan, who asks, "Am I being placed under arrest?"
"You're not under arrest," Detwiler says.
"I'm asking for a reason we're being pulled over," Ryan emphasizes.
"I'm not pulling you over," Nelson 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," Detwiler repeats as Nelson 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.
Benjamin, who was searched, handcuffed and placed in a police vehicle during the incident, was eventually accused of driving with an obstructed view, while Ryan was cited "for obstructing and resisting," However, the case against Ryan was eventually dropped, after the CSPD shrugged off his complaint about Nelson's behavior in what Silverstein characterizes as a "boilerplate letter."
We'll let Silverstein continue the story from there.
"We filed an open records request for the full investigative documents," he says, "but the department denied disclosure because the criminal case against Ryan was still pending. When the case was dismissed, we renewed our request for the file, and they disclosed portions of it — the factual investigation, the interviews with the officers, as well as with a postal carrier who was nearby and saw part of it.
"One notable thing about the interviews," Silverstein continues, "is that Officer Detwiler is very critical of Officer Nelson in her interview. She characterizes him as an officer who is prone to escalating situations."
Here's that section of Detwiler's interview:
I do think that he [Ryan Brown] escalated things unnecessarily by his behavior in the car and his unwillingness to just be cooperative with the police, but I have to tell you, working with Nelson as much as I do that his — I don’t know how to put it. His – the way he escalates himself so rapidly, I think, sometimes escalates things more than they need to be, and it’s frustrating. He just thinks — he gets so excited that his ability to take things up here, brings things up there, and that’s frustrating for me. I feel like I’ve been put in sort of a bad spot by that, but having said that, the guys in the car were obviously not very cooperative, or at least, the passenger wasn’t because I tried to do my best to keep it sort of calm.
Also intriguing to Silverstein is a description of Nelson by Sergeant Biscaro, who was called to the scene after the actions in the video had taken place. He called Nelson "a BB in a boxcar to start with, so he — he's kind of excitable." However, Biscaro added that he didn't think Nelson was "anything over the top."
A key passage of Biscaro's interview involves the sergeant's insistence that Ryan be ticketed since Nelson had gotten physical with him.
When they went to get the driver — or the passenger out of the car, he became — he was belligerent from the very beginning of the stop, from what I understand. He became more belligerent at the time and wouldn’t get out of the car, was saying he had no right to talk to him, all that kind of stuff and it turned out the officers had to lay hands on him to get him out of the car, put him down on the grass. It was snowing at the time, so grass and snow — handcuffed him, and took him back into the car. They put him in Officer Detwiler’s car at the time. So, I asked Officer Nelson what he was planning on doing. He said he was going to scratch the driver some tickets for not having insurance and believe it was obstructed view on the car and then I informed him that if he thought that the passenger was being — obstructing the whole traffic stop and that they had pulled him out and had to use any type of force, that type of thing, then he could cite him for a proper violation. It is just my belief that if we lay hands on somebody, then we charge him with what’s appropriate for that.
Also of import to Silverstein: In his view, "the interview with Officer Nelson does not seem designed to get to the bottom of some critical issues. For example, Officer Nelson is never asked to justify his decision to search the driver, Benjamin Brown, who is described as compliant once he's asked to get out of the car. A search is what the courts call an 'intrusion' that requires compliance with the Fourth Amendment. An officer needs to have objective, articulable facts that produce a reasonable suspicion that a person is armed. That's a relatively lenient standard for conducting a pat-down frisk, but he's not asked any questions about whether he met those standards. It suggests that suspicion-less pat-down searches have become so routine in the department that officers and supervisors don't bother memorializing facts that are purported to justify the search.
"Another thing that comes out in the interview with Officer Nelson is that he really intended to search the car for drugs, yet nobody asks him how in the world he believed he had facts to justify a search of the car for that purpose," Silverstein maintains. "The only facts that Officer Nelson recounts are that he believed he saw the car earlier in the morning driving in what the officer described as a high-crime area, and driving slowly. At the time, the officer said that he had decided he wanted to make a traffic stop, but he had to make a U-turn on a busy street, and by the time he got turned around, the car was gone. So it was a couple of hours later that morning when Officer Nelson saw what he thought was the same car and decided to make a traffic stop — and the only thing he saw that could possibly justify a traffic stop was the cracked windshield and something about the muffler."
In his interview, Nelson remarks that the Browns' car had a "modified exhaust." But Silverstein feels neither the windshield nor the muffler "would justify a search for drugs. So it raises questions about profiling. But the investigating officers don't bother pursuing that line of inquiry."
Silverstein would like to do so. He confirms that "we plan to ask them for the additional documents. We still want to know how they reached the conclusion that these actions were justified, legal and proper."
Look below to see Ryan Brown's video, followed by the statement of CSPD Police Chief Pete Carey and the interviews with Detwiler, Biscaro and Nelson..
Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey statement:
“Prior to any findings being made on an internal investigation the complaint is thoroughly investigated. I thank the public for their patience in this process. While we would like to have released this information earlier there is a balance that must take into account the on-going criminal investigation as well as preserving the rights of complainants and all parties involved in the investigative process.
Traffic stops offer many different perspectives from that of police officers to the drivers and passengers and bystanders or witnesses standpoint. This investigation included interviews with independent witnesses. This dichotomy of views can sometimes cause conflicts in expectations and outcomes.
I ask the public to read the investigation in its entirety in order to make an informed decision. The process of releasing an internal investigation is not something that I take lightly. There were honest comments, statements and opinions made from all parties. Stylistic difference in delivery of police services occur with each individual officer and every situation they encounter. These differences are not necessarily policy violations.”
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