On Monday, October 22, Michaella Surat, the CSU student whose Old Town Fort Collins police body slam fueled a viral video, was sentenced to probation and community service in the incident. But this may not be her last trip to court.
Surat's attorney, David Lane, says he'll soon file a lawsuit against Fort Collins Police Services over the incident — one of three such complaints in which he plans to argue that the department essentially condones brutality.
In Lane's words, "We're going to show that Fort Collins has a custom, practice and policy of allowing their police officers to commit excessive force."
On April 6 last year, Fort Collins police officers were called to the Bondi Beach Bar in Old Town because Surat's boyfriend got into a fight with another man. Surat's prosecutors maintained that when officers arrived, she and her boyfriend were trying to get back into the bar after he'd been kicked out. They asserted that Surat was generally uncooperative, hitting and grabbing the neck of Officer Randy Klamser, as well as trying to get a crowd that gathered to turn against the cops.
Here's how Klamser responded, as seen in body-camera footage made public by Lane.
Earlier this year, a mistrial was declared in the Surat matter, delaying the proceedings until August, at which point a jury found her guilty of obstructing a police officer and resisting arrest — both misdemeanors for which she was given a year's probation as well as what Lane describes as "some community service — and she has to go to a making-better-choices class."
In his opinion, "It's not a terrible sentence, although I want some understanding of why the jury did it. The resisting and obstructing all happened in a split second, and I think Michaella probably shouldn't have injected herself into the situation the way she did. But I think Officer Klamser was to blame for this — and now, he and Fort Collins are going to be facing their day in court."
She's not the only one. Lane reveals that he also represents Natasha Patnode, who shoplifted at a Target store on March 29, 2018. But this crime hardly matched the punishment doled out by Fort Collins police officer Todd Hopkins.
By one estimate, Hopkins struck Patode sixty times and tased her three times.
As was the case with Surat, what happened to Patnode was captured on video. Here's the clip:
In late September, Hopkins resigned from Fort Collins Police Services prior to a hearing into what went down.
The third Lane client who he says was treated brutally by a Fort Collins officer is Kimberly Chancellor, whose unpleasant introduction to the department's Stephan Sparacio on October 6, 2017, was also captured on video.
Lane shorthands the controversy like so: "This off-duty cop was pursuing her on a motorcycle because he didn't like the way she was driving. She got out of her car in a parking lot, and he's seen on video tackling her."
Below, see that clip, courtesy of the Fort Collins Coloradoan, which reported in February that Sparacio's behavior was found to have violated FCPS policy.
The actions against Surat, Patnode and Chancellor are only the latest to have prompted a face-off between Lane and the Fort Collins police.
"This is the same police department that framed Tim Masters for murder and settled with him for $10 million," Lane says.
Recall that Masters's 1999 murder conviction was tossed thanks to DNA evidence. In February 2010, he received a $4.1 million settlement from the Eighth Judicial District of Larimer County, followed by $5.9 million ponied up by the City of Fort Collins, bringing the total to $10 million.
More recently, Lane has earned smaller settlements from Fort Collins Police Services on a pair of cases. He describes one involving "an eighty-year-old man with Alzheimer's who the cops tackled and brutalized." The other revolved around Enan Heneghan, which involved "a Fort Collins officer going into his house," allegedly because he was playing music too loudly, and then "pepper-spraying and beating him," Lane allows.
Heneghan managed to record the exchange with Officer Aaron Westby and post it on YouTube, complete with a transcript of the conversation. This is a telling excerpt:
"These are just the cases in my office alone," Lane emphasizes about the assorted allegations. "I'm sure public defenders have hundreds of stories of excessive force."
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That's why "we're going to be in federal court suing the City of fort Collins and the police officers who brutalized these three women on video," he goes on.
He argues that Fort Collins "has a serious problem. The officers there believe they can do whatever they want whenever they want to whomever they want."
When the suits are formally submitted, Lane confirms that each will contain references to the other complaints. "We have to show that Fort Collins has a custom, pattern and practice of doing this, which requires that we give a federal judge chapter and verse about what Fort Collins has done. Hopefully, we'll be bringing in witnesses who lived through this."
Surat's conviction won't derail the suit in her name, Lane believes. "It eliminates the possibility of a false-arrest lawsuit, but it doesn't change the excessive-force lawsuit. She was convicted of two misdemeanors, but the officer, in my view, should have been prosecuted for felony second-degree assault for what he did."