Why Cops Assaulted the "Most Vulnerable Person in Brighton"

Joshua Sands spends most of his day riding buses, but he no longer feels safe visiting Brighton.
Joshua Sands spends most of his day riding buses, but he no longer feels safe visiting Brighton. Courtesy of CBS4
Joshua Sands is "the most vulnerable person in Brighton" according to attorney David Lane, and that makes what happened to him even more shocking. Sands, who has autism, was assaulted and tased by six members of the Brighton Police Department after being mistaken for a murder suspect who was already behind bars at the time.

How did Sands respond to the attack? Lane says he told the officers, "I've never hurt anyone, and if you don't believe me, you can ask my grandma. She'll tell you."

As first reported by CBS4, the Brighton Police Department has now formally apologized to Sands and forked over $50,000 to settle the matter. On the surface, this seems like a rather modest sum given the payouts in other cases of this sort. Note that last year, a family mariachi band represented by Lane received $1.6 million after a wrong-house raid. This time around, though, Lane says Sands's family wanted to resolve the matter sooner rather than later.

When the BPD initially made the $50,000 offer, Lane notes, "We said, 'No.' But Josh's dad decided that Josh didn't need the stress and all the difficulties of going through court — and without going to court, that's what they agreed to. We were prepared to file and go through the whole process, but his dad didn't think it would be good for Josh."

The incident in question took place on April 4, 2017, which began like any other day for Sands.

"Josh had a routine," Lane explains, "where he would get on the bus every day and travel around the Brighton area, getting off at various businesses where people were nice to him. They were his friends. And then he'd get back on the bus and make his rounds."

One of Sands's regular stops was "the Target store in Brighton that had a pizza place inside," Lane continues. "He'd get off the bus there and get a slice of pizza."

click to enlarge Two angles on Trevor Lee Sanford. - ALBANY COUNTY (WYOMING) SHERIFF'S OFFICE
Two angles on Trevor Lee Sanford.
Albany County (Wyoming) Sheriff's Office
The night before, however, news broke about a manhunt for Trevor Lee Sanford, a Wyoming man who had allegedly killed his grandmother a few days earlier and was thought to have traveled to Colorado. Photos of Sanford were prominently spotlighted on local newscasts, and Lane acknowledges that "there was some fleeting resemblance to Josh."

A Target staffer certainly thought so. "The employee saw Josh, thought, 'That's the murder guy from TV last night' and called the police," Lane reveals.

Moments later, he goes on, "approximately six police officers assembled, snuck up on Josh and grabbed him from behind — and when Josh stood up, they tased him. In fact, Josh said they tased him twice — and he's a little guy. It was horrible for him. He was crying."

Before long, the Brighton officers realized that Sands wasn't a murderer, Lane acknowledges — "and when they called into dispatch, they found out the guy they were looking for was already in custody."

Indeed, Sanford had been arrested the previous day by the Westminster Police Department, which had sent out a news release at around 1:45 a.m. on the 4th revealing that the accused killer was cooling his heels in Adams County jail.

In a statement shared with CBS4, Brighton Police Chief Paul Southard called what happened "an unfortunate and regretful incident that evolved very quickly in a crowded store. Officers had information that a violent murder suspect was at large, possibly in our area, and it was essential that any potential threat be dealt with immediately. After communication was possible with Mr. Sands, it quickly became evident that he was not the suspect wanted for First Degree Murder in Wyoming."

Southard added, "We are sorry the situation occurred. We have extended our apologies to the Sands family and have reached a resolution acceptable to them."

In Lane's view, Southard's explanation for why Sands was rousted doesn't hold water. "All they had to do is call their own dispatcher, who would have told them the suspect was in jail," he maintains.

While the settlement won't break Brighton's bank, Lane says, "The message I hope it sends is that the police need to do the smallest amount of due diligence. They can't simply act without thinking."

Especially when the person caught in the middle is as gentle a soul as Joshua Sands, who still rides the bus on a daily basis. But he no longer stops in Brighton.
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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