On March 25, Benjamin Brown and his brother, Ryan, were pulled over by two Colorado Springs police officers for what turned out to be a cracked windshield — a seemingly minor infraction for which literally thousands of Coloradans could be cited during this time of year.
Yet within minutes, Benjamin was in cuffs and Ryan was being pushed face down into snow while saying, "You see this? You see this? Excessive force."
The reason we can see what happened is because Ryan captured the entire exchange on a video shared below — and ACLU of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein sees it as a clear case of racial profiling against the Browns, who are African-American.
"It's hard for any reasonable person to watch that video and say that the same kind of over-the-top police actions would have happened if the two brothers had been white," he maintains.
The incident remains under investigation by the Colorado Springs Police Department — but in the meantime, the ACLU has announced it will represent Ryan in regard to his alleged interference with the police — even though simply recording law-enforcement interactions on video is, in the vast majority of cases, a citizen's legal right.
The clip 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."
"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.
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 Taser 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. That's when, as noted above, Ryan says, "You see this? You see this? Excessive force."
These are the last words heard in the video.
Benjamin was subsequently accused of driving with an obstructed view, while Ryan "was issued a ticket for obstructing and resisting," the ACLU's Silverstein says, "even though they haven't specified what they considered to be the alleged obstruction or resistance." Nonetheless, a municipal court date awaits.
Silverstein points out that "there has been an internal investigation pending since this incident, but no results of that investigation as yet."
Could the ACLU file a lawsuit on behalf of the Browns because of what happened? Silverstein isn't ready to talk about that prospect: "Right now, we're focused on providing a defense in municipal court and urging the Colorado Springs Police Department to complete their internal investigation — and hold the officers accountable."
But Silverstein makes it clear that the simple act of taking a video in such a case is far from illegal.
"People have a right to record what they're observing in a public place," he says, "and police need to learn to respect the public's right to record police actions."
Here's the video, ironically entitled "Our 'perfect' justice system at work!"