In late 2018, the ACLU of Colorado filed a lawsuit against the City of Aurora related to the 2017 beating of Jaime Alberto Torres by police officers investigating a minor nuisance report; it was at least the thirteenth such incident involving the city's cops and people of color since 2003, according to the ACLU of Colorado.
Over the next two years, more examples of alleged brutality by Aurora Police Department officers against people of color have surfaced, the most infamous involving the death of Elijah McClain in August 2019 following what an attorney representing his family describes as extended torture. In a recently filed court document, Aurora claims that its actions were justified in the McClain case — but the city has now agreed to settle the Torres complaint for $285,000.
Aurora issued this statement about the case: "The city has entered into a settlement agreement with Mr. Torres on this matter. As part of that agreement, the city did not admit liability in this case. This case was settled in part to avoid prolonged litigation, as many cases are. Regardless of any legal filings, the Aurora Police Department remains committed to ongoing reviews of its practices and procedures to offer the best service to our residents, and new Police Chief Vanessa Wilson has undertaken a plan to restore public trust in the department, called 'A New Way.'"
ACLU of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein's statement strikes a far different tone: "While the size of Mr. Torres’ settlement suggests the significance of the wrongdoing in this case, it does not begin to serve justice. To this day, Mr. Torres suffers physically and emotionally from that incident, and racialized police violence in Aurora has continued unabated."
Through 2018, Aurora taxpayers had already ponied up more than $4.6 million in settlements related to those thirteen cases cited by the ACLU, many of which we've covered. (Click to learn more about what happened to Juan Contreras, Ricky Burrell, Naeschylus Vinzant, Darsean Kelley, OyZhana Williams, Omar Hassan and Dwight Crews.)
Here's how Silverstein previously described what happened to Torres in November 2017:
"This is a case where police came to investigate a simple noise complaint," he said. "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."
However, "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 considered 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 said he would have admitted culpability, but a court exonerated him when it came to "the contempt-of-cop charges."
Nonetheless, the judge in the case showed little sympathy for what Torres had gone through. "He held up the photo of Mr. Torres's injuries," Silverstein recalled, "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.
"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."
Silverstein's remarks could hardly have been more prescient.
Here's the link to Jaime Alberto Torres Soto v. City of Aurora, et al.
This post has been updated to include a statement from the City of Aurora.
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