| Crime |

Claim: At Least 13 People of Color Abused by Aurora Cops Since 2003

Jaime Alberto Torres after being face-planted by an Aurora police officer.
Jaime Alberto Torres after being face-planted by an Aurora police officer.
ACLU of Colorado
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A suit filed against Aurora by the American Civil Liberties Union's Colorado branch on behalf of alleged law enforcement abuse victim Jaime Alberto Torres maintains that his brutalization, which left him with the injuries seen in the photo above, is one of at least thirteen such incidents involving officers with the city's police department and people of color since 2003.

And this total doesn't include the December 17 death of David Baker, a 32-year-old African-American, amid what representatives of the Aurora Police Department have characterized as an extremely violent domestic disturbance. Thus far, the Arapahoe County coroner has not determined what killed Baker, who was tased at least once during his interactions with officers before he was determined to be unresponsive.

Thus far, Aurora taxpayers have ponied up more than $4.6 million in settlements related to the thirteen other matters. And that total will grow should Torres prevail in what ACLU of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein describes as "another example of Aurora police officers mistreating a person of color."

Silverstein adds: "This kind of pattern undermines the trust police departments hope to create with communities of color. Incidents like this make people fear the police, not trust the police. And certainly, they don't trust police statements that they take seriously all claims of misconduct."

To back up this assertion, Silverstein references an ACLU graphic, on view below, that summarizes the aforementioned thirteen cases. "In almost all of them," he points out, "the Aurora Police Department did investigations and found no wrongdoing. And in the one or two cases where they did note some wrongdoing, that finding was overturned by the City of Aurora."

In June 2011, we wrote about the fatal shooting of Juan Contreras outside a Family Dollar Store. Police wrongly suspected Contreras of committing a minor crime; Aurora later paid a $400,000 settlement. Just shy of two years later, in February 2013, we reported on a $100,000 settlement made after cops responding to a call pertaining to Rickey Burrell broke his wrist even though he was already unconscious after suffering a seizure.

In November 2016, Aurora dispensed $2.6 million to settle the fatal shooting of Naeschylus Vinzant by Aurora police officer Paul Jerothe the previous year. The following July, Darsean Kelley, who Silverstein told us "was basically stopped for walking while black and then tased in the back while he was saying, 'I know my rights,'" took home a $110,000 settlement.

More recently, this past May, Aurora forked over $335,000 to settle a lawsuit filed against three members of the Aurora Police Department by OyZhana Williams regarding a 2015 run-in during which she had her head stomped in the parking lot of a hospital where her boyfriend was being treated for a gunshot wound, apparently because a cop lauded for heroism during the aftermath of the Aurora theater shooting didn't like the way she dropped her keys. And in the months that followed, Omar Hassan, whom officers ordered to leave a coffee shop for ordering a muffin while wearing a hoodie, and Dwight Crews, roughed up by APD members after he reacted to the prospect of his cat slipping out of the house, received settlements of $40,000 and $35,000, respectively.
Here's the aforementioned graphic:

A graphic highlighting thirteen cases of alleged misconduct against persons of color by members of the Aurora Police Department.EXPAND
A graphic highlighting thirteen cases of alleged misconduct against persons of color by members of the Aurora Police Department.
ACLU of Colorado graphic

The other five cases mentioned by the ACLU (in addition to the one involving Torres), begin with the fatal December 2003 shooting of Jamaal Bonner during a prostitution sting. Settlement amount: $610,000.

Next comes a June 2006 incident during which twelve-year-old Cassidy Tate was choked, slapped and thrown to the ground (which fractured her shoulder) following a disagreement over a handicapped parking spot. In addition, a cop was caught on video calling African-Americans "Alabama porch monkeys." Settlement amount: $175,000.

In February 2009, Carla Meza was kicked in the head while handcuffed, suffering a broken eye socket in the process, during a domestic-violence call. Settlement amount: $85,000.

Brandon Washington is said to have been tased and assaulted following an April 2017 car accident in which he was involved. No settlement this time, but the charges against him were dropped.

And in July 2017, Vanessa Peoples's shoulder was dislocated after she was hogtied during a welfare check on her mother. Settlement amount: $100,000.

As for Torres, here's how Silverstein describes what happened in November 2017:

"This is a case where police came to investigate a simple noise complaint," he begins. "Mr. Torres had been fixing a car with friends in the garage of his Aurora home, and the police officer wanted him to come outside. Mr. Torres hesitated for a moment, because he doesn't speak English well. He called his wife, who was inside the house, to come out and translate."

A photo of an uninjured Jaime Alberto Torres.
A photo of an uninjured Jaime Alberto Torres.
ACLU of Colorado

However, Silverstein goes on, "this short pause seemed to infuriate the officer, who began raising his voice and commanding that Mr. Torres exit the garage or else he was going to jail. Mr. Torres came out calmly, with his hands in the air — but his arms were put in a twist lock that caused him to scream in pain. Then he was handcuffed and his face was gratuitously smashed into the pavement, leaving him bloody and bruised up."

Silverstein considers the sequence of events "typical in cases like these, where a simple noise complaint turned into bogus police charges of resisting arrest and failure to obey a lawful order. And also typical of these cases, the excessive force was investigated by the Aurora police, who can't be trusted to investigate themselves — and to no one's surprise, they found no wrongdoing."

In the end, Torres was found guilty of the noise violation, to which Silverstein says he would have admitted culpability, but exonerated him when it came to "the contempt-of-cop charges."

Nonetheless, the judge in the case showed little sympathy for what he went through. According to Silverstein, "he held up the photo of Mr. Torres's injuries and said, 'When an officer tells you what to do, you do it.' So the judge was ignoring the jury's not-guilty verdicts and really endorsing what our complaint says is the practice in Aurora — that if persons of color don't immediately, totally submit to a police order, legal or illegal, they are going to be met with violence, aggression, hostility and bogus charges. ... If you pause momentarily, there's going to be hell to pay for it."

How should Aurora correct situations like these? Silverstein has some suggestions.

"Aurora really needs to take a long, hard look at how it's policing communities of color," he allows. "One step could be independent civilian review of police. A number of cities have that extra layer of protection, and I think Denver's Office of the Independent Monitor has definitely made progress in improving the credibility of investigations when there are allegations of misconduct. The Independent Monitor has produced reports that are at times critical of how law enforcement has policed the residents of the town, and the police have made changes in response to those reports."

An example: In a withering analysis of mistakes made in the jail death of Michael Marshall, the OIM suggested that the Denver Sheriff Department's Internal Affairs Bureau, the division charged with investigating such incidents, be placed under civilian control — and in December 2018, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced a plan to formalize this process.

As Silverstein sees it, "Aurora could really profit by taking a serious look at what it's doing wrong and make efforts to correct them. Otherwise, there will be more incidents like these, and more lawsuits."

Click to read Jaime Alberto Torres Soto v. City of Aurora, et al.

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