A new lawsuit claims that two Commerce City Police officers rousted Joshua Condiotti-Wade for legally protesting while carrying signs that read "Fuck Bad Cops" and "Blue Lives Murder." The problem was compounded, the suit maintains, when one of the law enforcers chased and tased Condiotti-Wade out of apparent frustration that he'd tripped and fallen down without help from anyone.
"The cops weren't happy," acknowledges attorney David Lane, who represents Condiotti-Wade. "But my client still has a First Amendment right to free speech," as well as the right to not be shot with a taser "when he did nothing wrong."
As Lane notes, Condiotti-Wade is friends with Eric Brandt, who's made a name for himself in recent years by antagonizing local powers-that-be with provocative signage, including an oversized, bird-flipping hand emblazoned with the phrase "Fuck Cops." In 2014, Lane filed suit against the mayor of Westminster, who had Brandt arrested at a city council meeting. The following year, Brandt was given a ninety-day sentence for chalking a sidewalk with crying pigs, and in 2017, he and Adrian Brown sued Adams County for what they saw as repeated constitutional violations.
Brandt was also present during the Condiotti-Wade incident, which took place on July 28, 2016. Lane stresses that the account of what happened in the lawsuit, which is accessible below in its entirety, is backed up by body-camera footage.
"Eric and several others were protesting police brutality in front of the Adams County human-services building," Lane notes. "Somebody inside called the Commerce City police, and these two cops" — Chris Dickey and Ryan Sedgwick, who are named as defendants in the suit along with Commerce City itself — "came up to them and said, 'You guys have been asked to leave. You need to pack it up.'"
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At first, Brandt balked, Lane continues. "He took the position that this was public property and they didn't have to leave. But after some back and forth, they started to walk away. They walked out of the parking lot onto the public sidewalk, carrying their signs with them. But one of the cops [Dickey] was apparently still angry at them, even though they'd left and asked Eric for his ID, because he said he was going to give him a summons. Eric was complying and giving over his ID when the cop said to Joshua, 'I need your ID, too.'"
Condiotti-Wade "hadn't said anything at all during the encounter," Lane asserts. "So he said, 'No, I'm not giving you my ID.' The cop told him, 'You're giving me your ID or I'm arresting you.' Josh said, 'I don't think that's going to happen,' and the cop said, 'I think you're under arrest.'"
Next, Lane goes on, "the body cam shows the cop made a move toward Josh and fell. I guess his shoes were slick, because Josh didn't do anything to him, didn't touch him. But when the cop got up, he was pissed, and he and the other cop started chasing Josh and began to fire tasers at him. One of them hit him in the arm, but that didn't complete the circuit — so he was running around with a taser dart in his arm."
By the time Condiotti-Wade had circled back to the front of the building, reinforcements had arrived in the person of Dickey's supervisor, Commander Mark Morgan, whom Lane credits with "bringing sanity to the chaotic madness."
Here's the dialogue between Morgan and Dickey, as laid out in the lawsuit.
Morgan: "Why are you chasing him?"
Dickey: "He's under arrest."
Morgan: "For what?"
Dickey: "For trespassing and disorderly conduct."
Morgan: "It's not disorderly conduct."
Dickey: "When he's in front of the building yelling, 'Fuck everybody....'"
Morgan: "That's not — it's public property. Freedom of speech. Relax."
Dickey: "He refused to give his ID...which he's required to do."
Morgan: "For why?"
Dickey: "So I can issue him a citation for trespassing."
Morgan: "It's not trespassing."
The conversation didn't end there, but at that point, Dickey turned off the audio on his body camera, "so we can't hear him getting chewed out," Lane says.
No tickets were issued in the incident and no arrests were made. However, Lane reveals that "Josh left with a taser dart and a bunch of wire in his arm. He had to go to a hospital to get it removed."
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Lane has nothing but praise for Morgan: "If I were wearing a hat, I'd take it off to him and say, 'Good work.' But these cops should have been educated about this before they ever fired a taser dart into my client. I don't know if we're teaching anybody a lesson, but those cops should have learned it in high school civics class."
Dickey is no longer with the Commerce City Police Department. "I believe he resigned because he had several complaints about using his taser in the past," Lane says. But Dickey remains in law enforcement; he's currently a member of the Elbert County Sheriff's Office.
In the meantime, Lane sees the lawsuit as carrying a message to Commerce City: "If you punish people for free speech, no matter how offended you are by that speech, we will come after you in federal court."
Click to read Joshua Condiotti-Wade v. Commerce City, Colorado, et al.