Police in Colorado brazenly violated the Fourth Amendment rights of dozens of motorists when they illegally detained them and searched their vehicles while attempting to locate a bank robber in 2012, a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court late last week alleges.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 14 of the 28 individuals who were “detained, removed, searched, restrained — and terrified” in a “more-than-two-hour mass roundup of innocent men, women and children at a traffic section,” was filed last Friday and names the City of Aurora and the police chief, among others, as defendants.
According the the lawsuit, the plaintiffs had their Constitutional rights violated after a man robbed a Wells Fargo branch on June 2, 2012. The suspect, described as a white male in his twenties or thirties about 5 foot, 6 inches tall, fled the scene with cash that contained a hidden GPS transmitter which was immediately traced to a nearby intersection.
Police then descended on the location and “immediately surrounded and barricaded all nineteen vehicles stopped at the red light at that intersection,” the lawsuit alleges, noting that officers “had no description of the vehicle in which the robber fled” and “could not even pinpoint from which vehicle the transmitter’s signal was emitted.”
“Nonetheless, the officers demanded that all vehicle occupants hold their arms up and outside of their vehicle windows,” the lawsuit continues, adding that individuals were not even permitted to “shut off their vehicle’s ignition, put their vehicle in park, or lift their parking brakes.”
“They brandished shields and pointed assault rifles directly at innocent citizens, including children under ten years old. Officers with police dogs were at the ready. No one was free to leave,” the lawsuit says.
Officers meanwhile were attempting to obtain a handheld beacon that could more precisely locate the GPS transmitter. The only agency that possessed one was the local FBI branch, which is closed on Saturdays.
As the lawsuit notes, “Banks throughout Aurora are open on Saturdays and, thus could be robbed on Saturdays.”
As officers continued to wait for the handheld beacon, the lawsuit claims officers were ordered to identify individuals who appeared “overly nervous or anxious.”
“Officers, weapons still drawn, proceeded to each vehicle,” the lawsuit says.
Such actions are depicted in several photos contained in the lawsuit, where officers can be seen pointing firearms at cooperating individuals from a very close proximity.
Eventually, officers instructed all the individuals to exit their vehicles after “more than an hour later the device had not arrived on scene,” the lawsuit says. This was done “despite having no probable cause or reasonable suspicion that any particular individual had committed any offense,” it adds.
“APD officers … ordered all occupants to exit their vehicles, upon which they patted down most of the individuals for weapons and handcuffed them,” the lawsuit says. “They commanded that every individual sit on the curb for yet another hour, still handcuffed. They searched each vehicle without consent.”
One defendant, Timothy Olsen, says he was mistreated by officers as they detained him. According to the lawsuit, he attempted to explain to officers that he had “multiple back and knee surgeries and permanent nerve damage, so kneeling was painful for him.”
That didn’t quell officers’ concerns, according to the lawsuit.
An officer “continued to scream at Mr. Olson to do so while waving his shotgun near Mr. Olson’s face,” it says. “Mr. Olson complied, and the pain in his lower back caused him to fall face forward onto the pavement.”
When he “attempted to get up” an officer “yanked Mr. Olson’s arm so violently behind his back while cuffing him that he inured Mr. Olson’s shoulder,” the lawsuit alleges.
Another defendant told officers she was experiencing severe anxiety and was on the verge of a panic attack. Officers entirely ignored her, the lawsuit says.
The tool needed to find the GPS device arrived on scene, but officers apparently did not understand how to operate it.
“At 5:28 p.m. — nearly ninety minutes after the initial roundup — an officer broadcasted over his radio that he observed a money band in the passenger seat” of a vehicle, the lawsuit says.
Finally, an FBI agent arrived on the scene. Understanding how to operate the beacon device, he almost immediately “received a strong signal from the vehicle in which the officer observed the money band.” The owner of that vehicle was later charged with bank robbery.
Ultimately, individuals were permitted to leave, after being detained for about two-and-a-half hours.
According to the lawsuit, police chief Dan Oates “publicly defended the officers’ actions and affirmed” that they acted in accordance with policy.
“We had a virtual certainty that the bank robber was in one of those cars,” Oates told the Aurora Sentinel at the time.
However, the lawsuit notes, “In the days following the roundup” he personally called each individual “to apologize for the ordeal.”
A spokesperson for the APD did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TheBlaze Tuesday.
One law professor reacted to the controversy online, contending that “protecting the public from armed bank robbers is certainly very important,” but “handcuffing dozens of innocent people — in a situation where it was certain that the great bulk of the people were indeed innocent — for over an hour as part of this sort of blanket seizure strikes me as much too high a price to pay for this sort of law enforcement.”
The defendants are seeking compensation for “emotional distress, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, and other pain and suffering.”
(H/T: The Dissenter)
Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter
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