VIDEO: Aurora cop pointing gun at doctor’s head prompts excessive force lawsuit

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Dr. P.J. Parmar stands for a portrait in the parking garage of his building where he was questioned by Aurora police on March 1, 2020.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Dr. P.J. Parmar, a prominent figure in north Aurora who for years has provided significant resources to local refugees, is planning on suing the Aurora Police Department after an officer held him at gunpoint during a line of questioning on March 1.

Denver-based civil rights attorney David Lane said he is preparing a federal lawsuit against the city claiming that an Aurora police officer used excessive force when he held a pistol in front of Parmar’s face while asking him why he was driving through a parking lot at 1532 Galena St.

Parmar has owned the building, the adjoining parking structure and their umbrella LLC, Mango House, for several years.

Parmar said he pulled into the parking structure attached to the Mango House building at Colfax and Galena on a Sunday evening in March when he encountered a police cruiser parked in front of him. Parmar said he then honked at the cruiser, which prompted an officer inside to get out and approach his vehicle while cursing.

That’s where a cell phone video provided to The Sentinel begins. In the roughly 150-second clip, a member of the Aurora Police Department identifying himself as “Officer Henderson” questions Parmar with his gun drawn, pointed at him from a close distance. At the beginning of the video clip, the officer asks Parmar, “What are you doing?”

Parmar, who is seated in the driver’s seat of a Chevy sedan, explains that he owns the property and repeatedly asks the police officer to leave.

In a Medium post entitled “Building Owning While Brown,” Parmar wrote that he was at the building to move Boy Scout gear. For years, Parmar has served as a Scout leader for a local Scout troop composed of Aurora refugees.

“(The officer) approached me, pointed his gun point blank at my head, and repeatedly demanded for me to prove that it is my property,” Parmar, whose parents emigrated from India, wrote in his Medium post. “As if a dark skin person doesn’t own commercial buildings in the ‘hood, or tend to them on Sunday evening. I told him I don’t need to, that I don’t even know how to (one can look up county records, but he wasn’t doing that), that he can do his own research (what documentation was he wanting? my building owner card?), and I told him he needs to leave right now. Instead of leaving he called in two other police to join him.”

From a cell phone video provided by Dr. PJ Parmar

Parmar was born in Canada and raised in Chicago. He was never cited for a crime after the interaction with officers.

Officers did not complete a standard incident report following their interaction with Parmar, a spokesman for Aurora police confirmed.

The formal service call that officers initiated began at 6:19 p.m. and was closed 31 minutes later. The only call note was “need a car, routine,” according to Officer Matt Longshore, spokesman for Aurora police.

Longshore confirmed that there is an active internal affairs investigation into the incident. The results of the investigation are pending.

Parmar said he never filed a formal complaint regarding the incident, but suspects a Facebook friend initiated the process after he posted about the encounter on his personal page.

“I would be remiss not to pursue it,” Parmar said of his case in a recent interview. “These are the sorts of things that, if they’re done unchecked, lead to more of it. It’s an opportunity to either help decrease it, or by doing nothing, I’m complicit in increasing it.”

Lane said he is planning on filing the suit on Parmar’s behalf this week.

“This is what people of color deal with on a daily basis in this country,” Lane said. “ … White America doesn’t understand the frequency that this kind of thing happens to people of color. There are two constitutions as far as the police are concerned: one for white people and one for people of color.”

The firm of Killmer, Lane and Newman has multiple other pending cases against the city regarding excessive use of force by Aurora police. One of Lane’s law partners, Mari Newman, is representing the family of Elijah McClain, the 23-year-old black man who died several days after he was detained by Aurora police while walking home from a convenience store last August.

Lane said existing case law stipulates that drawing a gun on a resident constitutes use of force.

“That force may only be used if the officer is in reasonable fear for his or her life,” Lane wrote in an email. “Dr. Parmar was merely loading boxes into his vehicle on his own property when an Aurora officer approached him with a drawn gun.”

While Aurora police are required to notify supervisors when they intentionally point a gun or other projectile launcher at a person, officials do not consider such an action a use of force, per department rules and directives.

Much of the legal precedent for what constitutes excessive force comes from U.S. Circuit Court decisions, which remain largely split on whether a police officer can enact excessive force without technically touching the subject of a contact, according to an article published in the University of Richmond Law Review.

“Can a police officer be sued for excessive force without making any physical contact with the plaintiff? The answer to that question is yes,” attorney Michael Jacobsma wrote in a 2017 article. “ … However, the federal circuits are not uniform on this issue, and the United States Supreme Court has yet to squarely address such a claim.”

Jacobsma later cites a decision from the 10th circuit, which encompasses Colorado, in which it was determined officers were not justified in holding children at gunpoint.

Some 30 people joined Parmar to protest Aurora police in front of the new Mango House facility, the former Broyhill furniture building at 10180 E. Colfax Ave., at 6 p.m. June 6. 

The demonstrators standing in solidarity with Parmar marched up and down the sidewalk along the 1500 block of Colfax Saturday evening, with some chanting to fire the officer who questioned the doctor in March.

Parmar said he was pleased with the turnout.

“It’s not an issue of a few bad apples,” he said of injustices carried out by police. “It’s an issue of — we have a few good apples. The majority of the barrel of apples is a little bit rotten at this point.”