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Fellow cop says Colorado Springs police officer may have escalated traffic stop

October 8, 2015 Updated: October 9, 2015 at 10:04 am
photo - Ryan Brown's attorney, Megan Downing, talks about the treatment her client received at the hands of police.  Image from a Gazette video.
Ryan Brown's attorney, Megan Downing, talks about the treatment her client received at the hands of police. Image from a Gazette video. 

A man whose video of a traffic stop gained national attention appeared to make the situation worse for himself, witnesses told Colorado Springs police as part of an internal investigation.

But an officer involved in the stop said her colleague may have escalated the incident with how he handled it.

Audio: Police scanner on Ryan Brown arrest

Interview transcripts, audio and video files, and emails from the Police Department's internal affairs investigation, released to The Gazette in an open records request Thursday, provide more details and accounts of the March 25 traffic stop involving Ryan Brown, and his brother Benjamin.

In the case the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado called an example of racial profiling and "driving while black," Ryan Brown was accused of obstructing a police officer.

His case was dismissed by the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office last month, but not after his video of the traffic stop drew more than 150,000 views on YouTube. Benjamin Brown was ticketed for obstruction of view and compulsory insurance, and pleaded guilty to those charges.

The video shows Colorado Springs police officer David Nelson pulling Brown from a vehicle with the assistance of officer Allison Detwiler. When Brown is out of the vehicle, Detwiler asks him to turn around, and Nelson appears to push him to the ground. The video stops abruptly and Brown claims the officers turned off the camera.

Brown, 31, filed a complaint with the Police Department that day, and the officers were cleared of wrongdoing after an internal affairs investigation.

Brown said Thursday he wanted to review the records before commenting, but said he was disappointed by the investigation.

Mark Silverstein, legal director of ACLU Colorado, said the organization received the documents Thursday afternoon but had not reviewed them.

Two witnesses, three officers and the Brown brothers were interviewed by Sgt. Brian Makofske and other officers as part of the investigation. Emails, news articles, and a summary of Ryan Brown's municipal contempt of court cases, for which he served jail time, are included in the internal affairs report.

While Benjamin, 23, is described as eventually complying with officers' requests, Ryan was seen as excitable and belligerent, including telling his brother not to obey orders.

Nelson, who has been with the department since 1991, asked for backup as he was making the traffic stop, and Detwiler soon arrived. Nelson told investigators that the initial moments of the stop went "horrible," and he called for a third cover car to assist the situation.

Nelson said he was concerned Ryan Brown was armed and pulled out his stun gun. "They didn't respect the police," he told investigators in his interview. "They had no respect for anybody, obviously, that it was going to become a problem, and I was trying to handle it with kid gloves as much as I could to the point where he would not - he would not show his hands, and he kept on fiddling around with his crotch. I thought it's time to get them out of the car."

Ryan Brown told investigators in an interview that also included his brother, that he did not know why they were pulled over.

"I'm not going to say because driving when I'm black, I don't know. I can't prove that, but I know that stuff happens," he said. "We know that stuff happens, but I'm not even going to throw that out there. I do know that he had no reason to pull us over."

Benjamin Brown said he believed officers could have "handled the situation better," but he was also nervous about what to do, according to the report.

"The first time he asked me to get out the car, I just sat there, like - I was nervous because my brother was saying that - my brother said I didn't have to get out the car, so I'm sitting there," he said, according to the interview transcript.

A witness who was in a ride along with Detwiler said she believed the situation could have been avoided if Ryan Brown had "just done what the officer asked," according to a transcript of her interview.

"They brought him gently to the ground," she said. "It wasn't forceful. It wasn't kicking and screaming. It wasn't anything like that. It was they finally got him out of the car and they brought him to the ground and then they cuffed him."

A second witness, a mailman, said in his interview that he did not believe Ryan Brown was on the ground longer than necessary.

Detwiler said she told Ryan Brown "a couple times" before he was pulled out of the car that he was not under arrest and would only be patted down for weapons. She drew her gun when she saw Nelson with his stun gun out, she said.

"I thought the passenger brought a lot of problems on himself by being uncooperative, and I couldn't have been more direct with him," she said in her interview.

But Detwiler said the situation could have been handled without Ryan Brown being taken to the ground.

Nelson's tendency to escalate situations, and unpredictability, however, differs from her own style of policing, she said.

"I'm not afraid to fight, if necessary, but I think I do a real good job deescalating things, and he is - it's sort of a known thing at Stetson that he's super excitable and he escalates very rapidly," she said, referring to the Stetson Hills police substation.

Nelson said he believed he held down on the top of Ryan Brown's head, not pushed it, into the ground. But he told investigators he didn't know why he did it, according to the transcript.

"If he was coming back up or something," he said. "I don't know. I have no idea. I didn't even know I did it until I saw the YouTube video." The officer said he tossed Ryan Brown's phone about a foot or two to the side after taking it out of his hand while Brown was being handcuffed.

In a letter sent to Ryan Brown, dated June 8, Commander Fletcher Howard said the incident was handled in a justified, legal and proper way. That description was disputed by the ACLU.


Contact Stephen Hobbs: 636-0275

Twitter @bystephenhobbs

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