• Tue. Sep 26th, 2023


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Arrest of Colorado 14-Year-Old Over a Slap Prompts Excessive-Force Suit

The father of a teenage girl filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against three police officers in Loveland, Colo., who arrested her in 2020, saying the men used excessive force when they slammed the 14-year-old onto concrete, fired a Taser at him and choked the family’s Jack Russell terrier.

The Loveland Police Department officers had searched for the daughter, who is only identified as S.S. in the lawsuit, after she slapped a boy in a Safeway supermarket parking lot because she believed he had been cheating on her with another girl, the lawsuit states. The boy, who denied that he cheated, declined to press charges, according to body camera footage of him speaking with the officers, which was released Wednesday by the family’s lawyer, Sarah Schielke.

The three officers named in the lawsuit — Matt Sychla, Jeremiah Wood and Evan Dunlap — still arrested S.S. outside her home that day. The arrest startled her father, Jon Siers, who repeatedly told the officers that what they were doing “was completely wrong,” the lawsuit states.

Mr. Siers was later charged with resisting arrest; his daughter was charged with harassment, domestic violence, obstruction and resisting arrest. The charges against them were eventually dismissed, Ms. Schielke said.

“Watching my daughter go through this, I mean, I was terrified,” Mr. Siers said by phone on Thursday. “I was helpless. I felt helpless just watching them manhandle my daughter the way they did.”

Steve Adams, the city manager in Loveland, said in a statement that while the “incidents were initially reviewed and deemed appropriate at the time of the event,” he would open a second review of the arrest by an independent law enforcement and public safety consulting firm.

“Best practices in law enforcement will be maintained and we are committed to accountability if those standards are not upheld,” he said.

It was unclear if the officers had lawyers, and the Loveland Police Department did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment on Thursday. Nicole Yost, a spokeswoman for the city of Loveland, said she did not know who was representing the officers.

In recent years, the Loveland Police Department has faced several lawsuits that claimed officers used excessive force while making arrests, including on June 26, 2020, when a 73-year-old woman with dementia was thrown to the ground and pinned against a squad car, breaking a bone and dislocating her shoulder in the process. Last year, the city of Loveland paid a $3 million settlement to the woman, Karen Garner.

Austin Hopp, the officer who threw Ms. Garner, pleaded guilty to assaulting her in March and was sentenced to five years in prison.

The back-to-back violent arrests point to “a toxic cultural problem that can’t be resolved by cherry-picking off the officer,” Ms. Schielke said.

“We’re stuck on Groundhog Day, basically,” she said.

On June 20, 2020, S.S. bicycled back to her father’s home, heartbroken over the confrontation she had with the boy hours earlier. They had yelled at each other, which caused someone to call the police, according to the lawsuit.

At the Safeway parking lot, Officers Wood and Dunlap were collecting witness statements and asking the boy to “fill out a form describing the slap,” the lawsuit states. On a form that asked the boy if the actions of S.S. caused him pain, he marked, “No.”

“It was the middle of the day and there was little else to do,” the lawsuit states, adding that the officer “were bored.”

Officers Wood and Dunlap, who had asked for backup, arrived outside Mr. Siers’s home later that day and asked to speak with his daughter. Four officers were there in total, the lawsuit states.

When S.S. admitted to them that she had slapped the boy, Officer Wood said that she was under arrest, the lawsuit states. He began to place handcuffs on her, which were too large for the 14-year-old’s small wrists, making it easy to slip out of, Ms. Schielke said.

Mr. Siers then asked the officers to stop, saying she was just a child.

The family’s small white dog, Skippy, began to bark at the officers “in a show of protection,” the lawsuit states, prompting Mr. Siers to tell the officers that he was going to get his dog so he wouldn’t bite them.

As S.S. watched this from a few feet away, she began having a panic attack, the lawsuit states.

She was on her period that day and felt scared by the thought of “bleeding all over a police car or jail cell,” the lawsuit states. She begged the officers to let her grab a tampon, but they told her no, causing her to flail and then collapse on the ground in tears, the lawsuit states.

The officers then approached Mr. Siers and asked him to stop resisting, according to the body camera footage.

“I’m not resisting,” Mr. Siers says.

“Get on the ground,” an officer yells, pointing a Taser at Mr. Siers and then firing it.

S.S. can then be heard yelling that she needs to get a tampon, body camera footage shows.

“I need to put a tampon in,” she yells, using an expletive.

Body camera footage then shows an officer yanking Skippy’s collar and pulling him off the ground as Mr. Siers yells, “Don’t choke my dog!”

“I’m not choking,” the officer says. “I’m a canine officer, dude.”

S.S. can be heard crying and yelling in the background.

The lawsuit states that Officers Wood and Dunlap slammed her into the concrete stairway outside the home and pushed her against a brick wall.

An officer can be seen placing Skippy inside the house; the lawsuit states that Officer Sychla kicked him in the face before closing the door.

The dog was later taken to live with a family out of state because he became “extremely aggressive with every stranger” after the police encounter, according to the lawsuit.

Mr. Siers said his daughter had nightmares for months.

“She pretty much sticks to herself, stays at home, stays out of trouble,” he said. “She’s a good kid.”

Mr. Siers and his lawyer said they would not accept a settlement and expected to take the case to a jury.

“I feel that there needs to be a change in law enforcement,” Mr. Siers said. “You know, I don’t know quite what, but some kind of change. What they’re doing is just violence.”