Body-Slammed Woman in Viral Video Strikes Back in Police Brutality Lawsuit

Michaella Surat after being body-slammed by Fort Collins police officer Randy Klamser in an April 2017 incident, as seen in video shared here.
Michaella Surat after being body-slammed by Fort Collins police officer Randy Klamser in an April 2017 incident, as seen in video shared here. Lane, Killmer & Newman, LLP
Last October, former Colorado State University student Michaella Surat was sentenced to probation and community service for resisting arrest and obstructing a police officer during a 2017 incident in which a cop's Old Town Fort Collins body slam of her was captured on a viral video. Afterward, her attorney, David Lane, revealed that he planned to file a lawsuit on Surat's behalf, alleging that Randall Klamser, the officer in question, had used excessive force in a manner that echoed other such offenses allegedly committed by members of Fort Collins Police Services.

Now, the lawsuit has arrived in conjunction with Surat's appeal of her previous convictions; they'll be reviewed in a hearing scheduled for next month. In addition to outlining brutality assertions against Klamser, the document accuses the FoCo force of what Lane characterizes as "a custom, practice and policy of using excessive force on people."

The examples the complaint uses to back this claim include two episodes that Lane says will be at the center of future lawsuits against Fort Collins.

Representatives from the city and Fort Collins Police Services are not commenting on the suit. But Lane isn't nearly as reticent. "Fort Collins has a problem, but they think everything is fine," he maintains. "They even gave Klamser a promotion. But in the world of civil justice in America, it's all about the money — and allegedly, money talks. Let's see if it talks loudly enough in this case."

The controversy was sparked on April 6, 2017, when Fort Collins police officers were called to the Bondi Beach Bar in Old Town because Surat's boyfriend got into a fight with another man. Surat's prosecutors maintained that when officers arrived, she and her boyfriend were trying to get back into the bar after he'd been kicked out. They asserted that Surat was generally uncooperative, hitting and grabbing the neck of Officer Klamser, as well as trying to get a crowd that gathered to turn against the cops.

Here's how Klamser responded, as seen in body-camera footage made public by Lane.

In January 2018, Surat's prosecution was derailed by a mistrial. Proceedings began again in August, and a jury subsequently found her guilty of the two aforementioned misdemeanors. But Lane remained focused on Klamser's actions, which he placed in the context of similar incidents involving two other clients, Natasha Patnode and Kimberly Chancellor.

Patnode shoplifted at a Target store on March 29, 2018. But this crime hardly matched the punishment doled out by Fort Collins police officer Todd Hopkins. By one estimate, Hopkins, who resigned from the FoCo force prior to a hearing over what went down, struck Patode sixty times and tased her three times in an encounter that wound up on video, too.

Footage also exists of Chancellor's unpleasant introduction to the police department's Stephan Sparacio on October 6, 2017. According to Lane, Sparacio (whose behavior was later found to have violated FCPS policy) pursued Chancellor while off-duty "because he didn't like the way she was driving. She got out of her car in a parking lot, and he's seen on video tackling her."

While complaints pertaining to Patnode and Chancellor have not yet surfaced, the cases are summarized in the Surat lawsuit along with two others. One involved Dakota McGrath, a third-degree-assault suspect who didn't hear an approaching cop because he was wearing earbuds at the time. As such, he was unprepared when the officer struck him in the head with a steel baton that he also used to bash his legs after McGrath went down in a heap. The case was later settled for an undisclosed amount.

Also cited is a July 2016 incident during which police allegedly pepper-sprayed Enan Joe Heneghan after entering his house without a warrant on a noise complaint. The City of Fort Collins eventually paid Heneghan a $150,000 settlement.

Lane makes no prediction about whether FoCo will have to pony up for Surat, too. "All we can do is ask for a trial, and then it's up to the jury to decide what can happen," he says — and while he'd be happy if the verdict would include an order that police services institute new training or policy shifts intended to prevent such occurrences in the future, "all we can do is ask for money. But hopefully, that will make a difference."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts