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Colorado Springs to defend police officers against wrongful arrest lawsuit

May 13, 2013 Updated: May 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm
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A man who was wrongly detained by Colorado Springs police for carrying a holstered pistol at a gay-rights parade last year is suing the city and members of the Police Department.

James Sorensen, 24, was arrested July 21 in Acacia Park in downtown Colorado Springs under an outmoded law - repealed in 2003 - that made it a misdemeanor to carry guns into public parks. Police later acknowledged the arrest was made in error, and Sorensen's ticket was dismissed in August.

In an April lawsuit, however, Sorensen alleges that he should be compensated for the violation of his rights.

"After more than two hours of unwillingly and unlawfully being detained, grabbed, handcuffed, disarmed, arrested, and his person and property seized and searched, and after being transported to the CSPD's Golden Hill Station and held there, Mr. Sorensen was released," the suit alleges.

The Colorado Springs City Council on Monday directed the city to provide legal representation to police officers named in the suit.

According to the lawsuit, Sorensen was leaving PrideFest when a police officer spotted a 40-caliber pistol on his hip and stopped him for questioning. Sorensen contested the stop, and after heated exchanges with several officers, he was ultimately arrested and cited. A 13-minute video documenting portions of the stop was posted on YouTube, and Sorensen can be heard questioning the officers' motives.

"This is because I'm gay," he tells police. "I'm gay and carrying a weapon and I threaten you, don't I?"

Sorensen, an Army veteran who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, told The Gazette in August that he has been a gun rights advocate since he was a boy when his father openly carried a gun. He said he often carries his gun to large public events and had no problems that day at PrideFest.

The lawsuit seeks compensation for unlawful arrest, unreasonable search and seizure, unreasonable violation of speech rights and unreasonable violation of the right to bear arms.

The action comes despite a public acknowledgement by police that they erred.

Although the prohibition against carrying pistols in city parks was repealed nine years earlier, the update didn't make it into a "cheat sheet" that officers used as a primer on Colorado Springs law, spokeswoman Barbara Miller said at the time.

"He was right and we were in the wrong, definitely," Miller said afterward.

The suit also complains about Sorensen's treatment in custody, alleging that he wasn't read his Miranda rights, and that a police supervisor mishandled a complaint form when Sorensen requested that police investigate the encounter.

An October letter police sent to Sorensen acknowledged that a police officer failed to follow procedures and that police "had taken appropriate administrative action," the lawsuit alleges.

In its response to the lawsuit, the City Attorney's Office said police were acting reasonably based on their understanding of the law and that their conduct was "not outrageous or extreme."

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Contact Lance Benzel: 636-0366

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