More than a dozen Denver police officers face a lawsuit alleging they needlessly tackled, punched and beat a man in the genitals with a baton at a protest of a homeless encampment sweep in 2020.
The lawsuit, filed in Denver District Court, aims to leverage Colorado lawmakers’ decision in 2020 to end qualified immunity for state constitutional violations by police officers, thus blocking a potential legal defense by the officers.
An updated complaint filed Tuesday named as defendants 15 officers involved in the arrest and added Denver police Chief Paul Pazen.
Denver police officers rushed, tackled and hit Michael Jacobs the night of July 29, 2020, while Jacobs attended a protest of the city’s decision to clear out an encampment of people experiencing homelessness in Civic Center, according to the lawsuit.
One officer, Eric Leon, punched Jacobs in the head multiple times, the lawsuit alleges. Another officer, Greg Dulayev, used a baton to ram Jacobs in the genitals repeatedly while multiple officers held him to the ground, according to the lawsuit.
Jacobs was standing by a chain-link fence that had been erected around Lincoln Park and rattling the fence when at least three Denver police vehicles approached him, including two trucks with several officers in riot gear hanging from the sides.
Officers later wrote in a probable cause statement that Jacobs was “actively trying to break down the fence and had pushed the fence into the park and was inside the boundaries of the park.” Officers heard over the radio that Jacobs was “up against the fence” and had been “running his mouth” earlier at the Colorado State Patrol troopers inside the fencing, body camera footage shows.
Officers jumped off the responding vehicles after they located Jacobs standing near the fence and ran at him, body camera footage shows. They did not give any verbal commands to Jacobs before they pulled him to the ground, video shows.
“Mr. Jacobs did not realize at first that he was being grabbed by a police officer; Mr. Jacobs believed he was being mugged,” the lawsuit states.
After police handcuffed him and led him to the waiting police cars, Jacobs asked repeatedly what he was being arrested for, body camera footage shows. An officer told him he was arrested for trespassing. Jacobs was on the sidewalk when police arrested him, body camera video shows.
“This was trying to cause pain”
Denver prosecutors charged Jacobs with a felony for allegedly trying to disarm an officer of his pepper ball gun but later dropped the charges, Jacobs said.
An internal affairs investigation into the conduct of Dulayev and three other officers continues, said Andrea Webber, records administrator at the Denver Department of Public Safety.
Denver city attorneys denied Jacobs’ allegations in their legal answer to the lawsuit, which originally was filed in December, or said they did not have enough information to admit or deny the claims.
Jacobs suffered a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder and underwent surgery, but still experiences pain, he said in an interview. His arrest and the injuries he incurred forced him to take a leave of absence from work and take two semesters off from school, he said. He still can’t lift weights — his favorite form of stress relief.
“Not only do I struggle with some of the emotional trauma of being attacked from behind and being paranoid about things, but when I try to deal with it, I can’t even do the thing that helps me deal with it,” he said.
Jacobs’ attorney, Benjamin DeGolia of the Rathod Mohamedbhai law firm, said the amount of violence the officers intentionally inflicted upon Jacobs was “extreme.”
“This was not just trying to restrain him, this was trying to cause pain,” he said.
No defense of qualified immunity
DeGolia originally filed the case in Denver District Court instead of federal court — where many excessive force lawsuits are heard — because police officers cannot use the legal defense of qualified immunity in state courts following the passage of state lawmakers’ 2020 police reform bill.
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that means government employees, like police officers, cannot be held personally liable for alleged constitutional violations in civil court unless plaintiffs can prove the worker violated clearly established law.
The state law also states that governments shall pay damages or settlement from a lawsuit against any officer, unless the government finds the officer “did not act upon a good faith and reasonable belief that the action was lawful.”
DeGolia named Pazen as a defendant in an updated version of the lawsuit filed Tuesday that alleges the police chief failed to properly train officers and failed to appropriately discipline officers who unnecessarily used force in other incidents.
Dulayev, the officer who allegedly used his baton on Jacobs, is named in another civil rights lawsuit for using a Taser in 2016 on an unarmed man, Gregory Heard.
Heard was hiding in bushes when Dulayev arrived to a report of a fight. Dulayev ordered Heard to step out of the bushes and threatened to use his Taser on Heard, according to video footage. As Heard emerged from the bushes, Dulayev fired the Taser and then tackled Heard.
Dulayev was not disciplined in connection to the incident, according to previous Denver Post reporting. Heard’s lawsuit is still ongoing.
One of Jacobs’ reasons for filing a lawsuit in his case was to bring accountability to the officers who arrested him.
“If these officers are not reprimanded they just feel more empowered to do the same thing again,” Jacobs said.
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