A lawsuit claims that Eric Magne was brutalized twice within an hour at the Clear Creek County jail. And while the officer involved in the first incident was fired and pleaded guilty to a crime for his actions, the deputy in the second case hasn't been disciplined, even though he's seen on surveillance video accessible here slamming Magne's head into a metal door jamb with little provocation — an act that results in the inmate lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood.
Darold Killmer, an attorney with the firm of Killmer, Lane & Newman LLP tells the story of the suit.
"On October 28, 2016, up in Georgetown, Eric was driving when he was pulled over for suspicion of DUI and DWAI, and suspicion of speeding," says Killmer, who's working with co-counsels Charles Crosse and Michael Lazar of Crosse Law LLC on the matter. "The person who pulled him over was Officer Jon Geiger, and there was a deputy DA, Susan Deschler, with him. They pulled over Mr. Magne, who previously had a traumatic brain injury and was on some medications. So it was less than clear what was impairing his driving — whether it was alcohol or his meds."
In the beginning, Killmer concedes, "it looked like a pretty standard DUI arrest. Eric was brought into the Clear Creek County jail for booking and processing — and nothing particularly out of the ordinary happened on the street."
That soon changed.
"When they got to the jail, Officer Geiger was responsible for at least his initial intake," he notes. "He was going to put Mr. Magne in a cell — and actually, Mr. Magne wanted to go into a cell, because he had detected what he thought was some aggression on the part of Officer Geiger. But when he went into the cell, the door wasn't catching, and he jerked it to try to force it to close, which apparently was annoying to Officer Geiger. He rushed over and forcefully pulled him out of the cell."
Magne "was surprised by this," Killmer continues. "He's asking, 'What's the problem? I was just trying to close the cell door,' which he assumed was the program Officer Geiger wanted as well. But Officer Geiger grabbed him and wrenched his arm behind his back, almost lifting him off the ground. It was a surprisingly forceful response to what really was a non-event, and the lawsuit alleges that it was more excessive force than was necessary."
Here's a portion of the video that captured what happened. The key action begins at around the 4:15 minute mark.
In Killmer's view, Geiger's actions constituted "a physical roughing-up that was a precursor of things to come" — and they were taken seriously by the Georgetown Police Department. "They actually fired Geiger and indicted him, and the grand jury returned an indictment. He eventually entered a plea of guilty for harassment."
For this reason, Killmer points out, "we haven't sued Georgetown. We sued the officer as an individual. We'll sue the municipality if we can prove something they did. But when Georgetown looked at the facts of the case, they realized Geiger was at fault and did something about it."
Thus ended what Killmer refers to as "act one. And act two is what happened next."
The major player in the second part of the story, Killmer allows, is "Michael Hansen, a Clear Creek County deputy stationed at the jail. He came and got Eric and escorted him into a room where they do some booking. At that point, Eric wasn't cuffed and he hadn't been misbehaving. Maybe some jawing went on, maybe a few words between the two, but nothing physical."
While they were talking, however, "a little bit of spittle came out of Eric's mouth, maybe because of the medication he was on for the traumatic brain injury," Killmer speculates, "and a little went onto Hansen's chest or upper shoulder, near his badge. That was accidental, and Eric reached up to wipe it off. I don't know what Hansen thought was going on, but Eric wasn't taking a swing or doing anything aggressive. He was just trying to brush the spittle off Hansen's shoulder sleeve."
Nonetheless, Killmer says, "Hansen lost it. He grabbed Mr. Magne by the neck and started to swing him around like he was going to take him to the ground. And then he took his head and slammed it into a metal door frame and the wall. That's when blood started pouring out of Eric's head. After that, Hansen took him to the ground. And even though Eric had an obvious head wound, he put his knee into his back in an effort to handcuff him. Meanwhile, the blood is pooling around Eric's head. You can see it clearly in the video."
True enough. Here's the second clip. The key sequence can be found at around the 45-second mark, and it may disturb some viewers.
The ruckus in the booking room "caused other officers to come in," Killmer recaps. "We haven't been able to get their names yet, which is why they're named as John Doe defendants. We'll find that out in discovery. But Hansen was still on top of Eric, working his hands to get him into cuffs. A significant amount of force was being inflicted on a pretty helpless guy. Eric wasn't resisting; he wasn't doing anything that threatened the safety of Deputy Hansen. And when he finally got the handcuffs on him, you can see in the video that Eric is in a five-foot circle of his own blood."
Shortly thereafter, Killmer says, Magne "began to have seizures and convulsions. And Deputy Hansen and all these officers are standing over him while this was happening. The seizures were almost certainly the product of the head trauma he suffered; Eric hadn't previously been subject to seizures. That indicated immediate medical care was required."
Eventually, "EMTs arrived and took him to the hospital," Killmer acknowledges. "But one thing I'm concerned about is that when people with seizure disorders are handcuffed, it can be very unsafe, very dangerous. They can pull their shoulder out of its joint and any number of things. But they're just standing over him, watching him have seizures and bleed all over the floor while he's handcuffed."
How much additional damage did Magne sustain as a result of the time he spent in Clear Creek County jail? Killmer has a more definitive answer than usual. "Because of his previous head injury, he had been undergoing neurological testing two or three weeks beforehand. So what I have as a lawyer is something I never have: a baseline test of the status of his previously injured head prior to this. And followup neurological testing allows us to see the delta — the difference between his already harmed functioning versus what it is now after the second traumatic brain injury. And now he has a seizure disorder that he never had before."
The way the Clear Creek Sheriff's office handled the matter afterward "is indicative of a greater problem," Killmer believes. "They had the same video we have now, and they said it confirmed that everything Deputy Hansen did was fine — consistent with the way they do things. If this was out of compliance with operating procedure or practice, you'd expect some level of discipline or counseling to have occurred, or maybe a statement from the county saying, 'That was too much force. You shouldn't do that again.' But there was nothing like that."
A spokesperson for the Clear Creek County Sheriff's Office declines to comment about the lawsuit, which asks for economic, compensatory and punitive damages, because the litigation is pending. Click to access Eric Magne v. Clear Creek County, et al.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.