Budding MMA Fighter Donovan Duran's Lawsuit Accuses Cops of Paralyzing Him

Donovan Duran's Facebook page still lists him as a "full-time MMA fighter."

But right now, his main battle is against the La Junta Police Department.

Duran was paralyzed after being slammed to the ground by cops last December. He's now filed a lawsuit against the police department over the incident, which was captured in body-camera footage featured below.

“La Junta Police Department training of officers does not include proper training in responding to calls involving persons in crisis or with obvious mental health problems, including use of force policies and de-escalation strategies,” states the document, obtained by the Denver Post.

The suit maintains that Sergeant Vince Fraker's "use of excessive force...was outrageous and shocking to the conscience, in violation of Duran’s substantive due process rights.”

A grand jury declined to indict Fraker and the other La Junta officers involved in the incident.

Its report, included below in its entirety, maintains that Duran was "known to local law enforcement as a mixed martial arts fighter" who "had numerous contacts with law-enforcement over the years."

On December 5, 2015, for example, Duran is said to have called 911 multiple times "to report people trying to enter his grandfather's home, people trying to kill him, and requesting a ride to his mother's house." Afterward, Duran "was contacted by police on several occasions and briefly hospitalized," the document says.

Then, at 2:35 p.m. on December 7, Sergeant Fraker and officers John McMillan, Chris Ramirez and Joe Schueller were dispatched to a residence on the 200 block of Harriet Street in La Junta on a report of a "disorderly party." There, Duran's dad said Donovan was "wigging out" — but police didn't immediately take him into custody.

Less than an hour later, at 3:21 p.m., an abandoned 911 call prompted Fraker, McMillan and Ramirez to return — and Duran ran out of the house to avoid them. The law enforcers didn't pursue, but outside the house, they found him standing in the middle of the intersection — and when he asked to be taken to a treatment facility or hospital, Fraker decided to drive him to Arkansas Valley Medical Center.

En route, Duran allegedly began biting a Tupperware container in the rear of the vehicle and yelling either "That's not fair" or assorted profanities.

Upon their arrival at the hospital, the grand jury report maintains, Duran was ordered to get out of the vehicle. In response, he's quoted as saying, "Don't touch me," after which he "put his handcuffed hands forward past his butt and behind his knees."

That's when Fraker grabbed Duran and "rolled him out," at which point he "landed headfirst on the pavement."

It was clear from the beginning that Duran was seriously hurt. "Help me," he whispered.

Police "dragged him to the curb and placed him in a crouched position on his knees with his head on the sidewalk," after which he was transported into the medical center..

Doctors subsequently discovered that Duran's C6 and C7 vertebrae had been damaged, crushing his spinal cord at that point, according to KRDO-TV. He's paralyzed from the chest down and has little use of his hands.

The grand jury conceded that Duran's injuries were "tragic," but the members didn't find enough evidence to prosecute Fraker or the other officers.

Among those speaking in support of their actions was Sergeant Sam Varela, an expert witness from the Castle Rock Police Department, who "found nothing objectionable about the way Sergeant Fraker rolled Duran from the backseat on the pavement in an attempt to control him and prevent him from getting his handcuffs in front of his body" — a potentially dangerous act, since doing so would leave him "able to fight, use the handcuffs as a garrote, kick or run."

Mike McDivitt, Duran's attorney, blasts this decision in a blog post.

He writes that "the grand jury hearing in this case — as in every case — is by law secret and ex parte. That is, only one party participates and presents evidence. Neither Donovan nor his attorneys were able to be present to hear testimony of witnesses. Those unnamed witnesses could not be cross-examined by us, nor could we present evidence on Donovan’s behalf. Likewise, our attorneys were not allowed access to any documents, reports, or videos presented to the grand jury as evidence, nor were we permitted to present such type of evidence on behalf of Donovan. The special prosecutor appointed in the case presented in secret the evidence that he alone decided was appropriate, with nobody present to challenge that evidence or to present additional or contrary evidence.

"The bottom line is that the grand jury heard only one side of the story," McDivitt adds. "Our goal is to ensure all sides of the story are presented. In this case, Donovan’s civil rights were violated by the actions of the La Junta police force, which requires the filing of a federal lawsuit."

Thus far, the La Junta Police Department hasn't commented on the lawsuit.

Below, see a KRDO report, featuring an interview with Duran and body-camera video obtained by the Post via an open-records request to the 16th Judicial District DA's office. That's followed by the grand jury report.

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Donovan Duran Grand Jury Report

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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