Regan Benson is a supporter of Mitt Romney, but she's not a big fan of the law enforcement officials in charge at the candidate's recent Colorado rally. Benson says that when she was trying to get to her car after the Sunday night campaign event ended, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office refused to let her pass, handcuffed her, detained her for half an hour and told her she could get shot by Secret Service if she didn't cooperate.
Here's a short video, which Benson began filming on her camera as officers started arguing with her. She kept it running for about a minute and a half until the battery died. Regan says things only got worse after that. It's too dark to see much of anything in the footage, but the audio is quite clear.
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office tells a different story than Benson in its official reports. Documents maintain that she was purposely causing a scene at the end of the rally and officers had to restrain her when she tried to violate a Secret Service order to keep the crowd in a certain area while Romney's motorcade left D'Evelyn Junior/Senior High School, where the Republican presidential nominee had been speaking.
Benson, who does public education advocacy work, has gotten attention in the past for various free speech efforts. In February, she clashed with the Colorado Board of Education over the expulsion of her son, who'd earlier gotten into trouble for wearing a shirt that said "Border Patrol." Previously, another of Benson's sons made headlines after he was arrested and suspended for wearing a "Nobama" shirt at a Michelle Obama event. The ACLU represented the teen in this last case, ultimately winning a settlement.
Now, Benson is arguing that the sheriff's office seriously mistreated her -- refusing to let her get to her car and ultimately roughing her up for no justifiable reason.
After the rally, the crowd of thousands definitely created a confusing and somewhat chaotic bottleneck trying to exit the premises. Yours truly witnessed dozens of people hopping a fence to try and get out of the main section and make their way to their cars. But even after doing so, these people were still temporarily boxed in by officers, who told folks that they couldn't pass until Romney's motorcade left. Once it did, the crowd was free to walk through the parking lot to their cars.
We didn't witness Benson's confrontation, which probably occurred before we got to the other side of the fence.
"I'm still in shock," says Benson, 39. "This is insane."
Benson, who was at the rally with a younger son, age fourteen, and her friend Jen Raiffie, says the confrontation began as they were trying to get past officers en route to their car.
"It was just a wall of people. We walked through...and one deputy sheriff tried to stop me," she says. "He said, 'You're not going anywhere.'"
She says another deputy told her pretty much the same thing, then "threw his body into me to back me up."
A deputy told her she had to cooperate or she would be placed in cuffs. "I said, 'You have no reason to put me in handcuffs!'" she recalls.
The audio in the blurry video reveals a dramatic, and loud, confrontation. In the clip, an officer repeatedly tells her that she has to step back and she says, "I'm going to my car."
Then she says, "Get your hands off of me. Get your hands off of me!"
"You stand over here or you're going in handcuffs," a female officer says to her. "It's your choice."
The officer then counts to three before telling Benson to put her hands behind her back and starts to put her in handcuffs.
"You're like five minutes away from leaving," an officer says to her when Benson asks why they are holding people like this.
Some people are heard on the video shouting, "Let her go!"
At one point Benson shouts, "You don't have any reason to restrain me!"
"Yes, we do!" the officer says.
"No, you don't!" Benson shouts back. "Let me go! I want to go to my car!"
"It's either this or you could get shot by the Secret Service," an officer says to her, which seems to only escalate the tensions.
"Get shot? I could get shot?" Benson asks loudly, prompting a "Yes, ma'am" from the officer.
That's when the video cuts out.
Continue for the rest of Benson's story and the official response from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. Benson says that after she was put in handcuffs, officers took her to another area of the parking lot.
"That woman was trying to break my arm," she says. "They were dragging me.... I was screaming at that deputy, 'You're hurting me! You're hurting me!'"
Benson adds: "They never told me I was under arrest. They never told me what I was doing wrong. They never told me why I couldn't leave."
After being held in a vehicle on site for about thirty minutes, she says, she was given a citation for "obstructing government operations," with a court date in December. She reconnected with her son and then decided to go to the emergency room when her wrists started swelling up. Nothing was broken, she says, and she got home around 2:30 a.m. after the whole ordeal.
"I am incredibly mortified and shocked," she says.
A public information director with the sheriff's office yesterday sent us a lengthy report, on view below, with detailed accounts from various officers involved in the incident. Overall, the officers report that Benson was not complying with their repeated requests to stand back while Romney's motorcade departed and eventually they had no choice but to cuff her. The reports also say that she and her friend were clearly trying to cause a scene and get the crowd riled up.
One part of an officer's account says:
As Ms. Benson walked towards me, she continued to shout, we had no right to stop her from leaving. As Ms. Benson approached me I stepped in front of her with my arms out to the side and explained she could not go this way until the Romney motorcade left the area. Ms. Benson who was obviously determined to cause a disturbance walked into me bumping her chest into mine.... I tried to tell Ms. Benson it would only be five minutes until the motorcade would be leaving and then she could walk to her car.... Both Ms. Benson and the other female seemed determined to create a disturbance and incite the crowd as they both shouted back and forth to one another about their legal rights.
Other accounts from the sheriff's office report say that Benson and her friend were insulting the officers, saying things like "the big bad Jefferson County Sheriff's Office," and calling the female officer a "she-woman," as described in this excerpt:
The woman was angry and yelling. I stood and looked at her and she began yelling to her friend "she-woman is having a stare down with me." The woman told me "this is why women should not be cops." I asked her why. The woman stated "because women do not know their boundaries." The woman continued to yell things to her friend standing nearby.
Benson doesn't deny that comment, but she says the officer was unnecessarily physical with her and she plans to file an internal affairs complaint against her for "excessive force." In her view, "She was out of control."
In regard to the Secret Service-shooting comment, one officer's account says:
The woman began screaming "you have no right to arrest me" and she repeated yelling this in an attempt to incite the crowd. I attempted to provide some prospective [sic] to the woman and told her that if she ran across the area the secret service would shoot her. The woman just started screaming again.
"Give me a break!" Benson says in response to those comments. "By the time we'd gotten there, we had walked past three or four deputies. They were the last ones with the biggest power trips."
She says she hasn't decided yet if she will file a lawsuit. "My biggest concern is the presence of the police...and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office working against the citizenry on a consistent basis."
It's also a bit of an ironic situation, she says, given that her son got in trouble for not staying at an Obama event.
"I'm just saddened by this chain of events," she says. "My son is cited for not leaving an Obama rally, and four years later, I'm cited for trying to leave a Romney rally."
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Continue for the full report from the Jefferson County Sheriff Office. Regan Benson Report