The National Institute of Justice has found that a police officer’s “demeanor and actions are crucial to perceptions of police legitimacy. If officers communicate well, listen and treat citizens with respect, citizens will respond in kind.” In fact, research shows that if police officers treat citizens fairly and respectfully, they will frequently report these positive impressions to the officers’ superiors even if the officer takes legal action against them, such as the issuance of a speeding ticket.


No Charges for Texas Police Officer Who Manhandled Teen at Pool Party


Reminders of police misconduct and apparent lack of training are constant.  Just last week a grand jury in McKinney, Texas decided not to indict police officer Eric Casebolt, who was documented by video tape manhandling a young girl and slamming her to the ground after police were called to respond to a dispute at a pool party.  Police are also seen pulling their guns and chasing teens in what could have become another deadly incident of out of control police conduct.  Given the continual release of videos from all over the nation documenting police over-reacting and taking a deadly force posture as the first response, it is no wonder so many communities fear the police and mistrust their intentions.


Another Acquittal for Police in Freddie Gray Case


This came during same week when another officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray, who was killed after his neck was broken while in police custody, was acquitted of criminal charges.  Prosecutors argued that officer Caesar Goodson intentionally gave Gray a “rough ride” after failing to buckle him into his seat inside a police wagon.  Gray’s death sparked riots in Baltimore and continues to fuel cries for police accountability.


Good Officers Placed in Harm’s Way by Acts of Bad Cops


A great majority of police do a good job under very difficult circumstances.  They understand that they are in the community to serve and protect. They also understand the great disservice “bad cops” do to the reputation of law enforcement and the increased risk they face when relations between police and the communities they serve are strained.


Case of Police Brutality Can Proceed to Trial


This is a lesson that Lakewood, Colorado police officers Todd Clifford and Todd Fahlsing should have learned in the police academy. They did not. They became part of an expanding law enforcement culture that believes the badge and uniform give the police absolute power to handle citizens they encounter in whatever manner they choose appropriate for the circumstances.


That’s what occurred when officer Clifford stopped Latonya Denise Davis in Lakewood at 11:30 p.m. on February 25, 2012 after he ran her license plate through a law enforcement database which revealed that she had an outstanding warrant for her arrest for driving with a suspended license “caused by failure to provide proof of insurance.” This is a misdemeanor offense under Colorado law.


Why did Clifford run Davis’s license plate?


Perhaps it was the handicapped symbol on her vehicle. We recently reported about the increasing practice of police conducting pretext personal and vehicle stops in order to run “warrant checks” to see if there is reasonable suspicion to either detain or place individuals in custody.


Police Abuse Woman Stopped for Traffic Warrants


In a June 13, 2016 decision, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals picked up the chronology of events that transpired after Clifford made the pretext vehicle stop.


He activated his emergency lights and called for “back-up assistance.” An argument can be made that this was good, safe police work.


But what was not good, safe police work was the fact that three different officers in different vehicles responded to the back-up call. While they were speeding to the scene, Davis pulled her vehicle into a parking lot and turned off the engine. The three responding vehicles arrived at the scene and blocked Davis’s vehicle in all directions.


What we had was four officers in four different vehicles who responded to a misdemeanor offense. The atmosphere for a cop/citizen confrontation was inevitably created by this overwhelming police presence for no good reason.


Police Act Like Highway Robbers


The Tenth Circuit explained what happened next:


“After being surrounded by police cars, Davis heard batons banging on her car and, fearing for her safety, she locked the doors and rolled up her window. Officers Clifford and Fahlsing approached the driver’s side door, and Clifford told Davis to step out of the car. Through a gap in the window, Davis asked why she had been pulled over and offered to show her license, insurance, and registration. Clifford responded, ‘you know why,’ and commanded her to ‘step the fuck out of the car.’ After the officer told Davis she was under arrest and again directed her to exit the vehicle, Davis responded that she would get out of the car if the officers promised not to hurt her.


“When Davis did not immediately exit the vehicle, Fahlsing shattered the driver’s side window with his baton. Instead of reaching in to open the door, Clifford and Fahlsing grabbed Davis by her hair and arms, pulled her through the shattered window, pinned her face-down on the broken glass outside the car, and handcuffed her. Placed into a patrol car, Davis suffered an anxiety attack – paramedics were called and she was transported to the hospital for treatment. She was then transferred to jail.”


Excessive Force?


Davis sued the two officers for using “excessive force” in arresting her. A U.S. district court dismissed her lawsuit, extending to the officers qualified immunity for their misconduct. The Tenth Circuit reversed that decision and ordered the case to proceed to trial. We are pleased with this outcome.


There are three basic points to understand about this incident.


First, Davis was stopped for a misdemeanor offense—certainly the kind of offense that required nothing more than what the Tenth Circuit called “minimal force” to execute her arrest.


Second, Davis only sought the reassurance from the officers that she would not be hurt before exiting the vehicle. This was a logical response to Clifford’s demand that she “step the fuck out of the car.” That surely signaled the officer was primed to hurt someone.


Third, there was an overwhelming police presence. Her vehicle was surrounded in all directions by police cars. She posed no risk to flee, and, in fact, had not even attempted to flee. She immediately pulled into the parking lot once Clifford triggered his emergency light. She only locked her vehicle and rolled up her window after Clifford and Fahlsing started banging on her vehicle with their batons.


Police Abuse of Handicapped Woman


This is a blatant example of police misconduct. Ms. Davis was a frightened, handicapped citizen surrounded by rude, vulgar and intimidating police officers. They acted more like highway robbers approaching a target vehicle than courteous police officers stopping a citizen with an outstanding, non-violent misdemeanor offense.


We can only hope that a jury will see it the same way and assess severe punitive damages against the officers (if they are still officers).