AURORA | The local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the City of Aurora in federal court Tuesday morning, alleging Aurora police officers unnecessarily brutalized a man they arrested two years ago tomorrow.
Lawyers working on behalf of 30-year-old Jaime Alberto Torres Soto filed the suit in U.S. District Court against the city, as well as Aurora Police Officers Ethan Yazdani, Kristi Mason and Sgt. Reginald DePass, for allegedly violating Torres’ Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.
The complaint also claims the incident involving Torres is only the latest example of Aurora police using excessive force against people of color, and that officers conspired to cover-up the ensuing investigation.
Torres was born in Mexico, according to Colorado Bureau of Investigation records.
The lawsuit stems from an altercation that occurred in a garage beside Torres’ Aurora home in the 1000 block of South Troy Street shortly after midnight Nov. 21, 2016.
Officer Yazdani originally responded to Torres’ home after a neighbor reported a noise complaint, according to the lawsuit. Yazdani contacted three men — one of whom was Torres — who were reportedly listening to music and working on a white pickup truck parked halfway into a garage.
Footage from police body cameras shows Yazdani speaking with two of the men, one of whom identifies himself as Luis Torrez, outside of the garage, while Torres stays in the building on his phone.
Yazdani then orders Torres, who according to the ACLU speaks scant English, to come out of the garage. But he and the other men at the scene say he’s calling his wife and waiting for her to arrive and translate for him.
After additional orders, officers then help Torres step out of the garage, which he does with his hands held out in front of his waist. Officers then apprehend Torres, twisting at least one of his arms behind his back.
In body camera footage, Torres can be heard saying, “You’re spraining my arm,” in Spanish at least eight times before screaming in pain.
The complaint asserts officers then repeatedly slammed Torres’ head and body into the pavement.
Torres suffered injuries to his eye, face, head, shoulder and back, according to the complaint.
In the body camera footage, Torres can be heard screaming in pain again as officers take him to a squad car. He then repeatedly says in broken English and Spanish that the officers are “racísta.”
Throughout the altercation, officers are instructing Torres in a combination of broken Spanish and English.
Torres was charged with disturbing the peace, resisting arrest and failing to obey a lawful order. He was acquitted of the latter two charges in a jury trial, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit asks for a new jury trial and an unspecified monetary sum in compensatory and punitive damages.
Torres had not been charged with any other crimes in Colorado prior to his arrest two years ago, CBI records show.
“I was just fixing a car in my garage. I wasn’t hurting anybody,” Torres said in a translated statement issued by ACLU Colorado. “But the Aurora police beat me up. They didn’t care that I was screaming in pain. Now I am afraid of the police.”
The suit alleges Officer Mason conspired to cover-up the incident at Torres’ garage by ordering Torres’ wife, Maria Ibarra, to stop recording the altercation.
The complaint also references several other instances of excessive force by Aurora police officers, painting the department and city as corrupt organs that prey on non-white citizens.
“It is customary in Aurora for officers to use excessive force against people of color and then charge them with bogus and trumped up offenses so as to conceal that fact that the officer used excessive force,” the suit says. “These charges are most often resisting arrest, obstruction, failure to obey a lawful order, or a combination thereof.”
The suit references more than a dozen incidents dating back to 2003 during which Aurora officers allegedly used excessive force against black and Hispanic residents.
The city paid millions of dollars to settle several of those claims.
Sergeant DePass was tasked with reviewing the incident, according to the suit. He found the officers involved did not engage in excessive force and did not warrant disciplinary actions, the suit says.
Citing the status of the suit as active litigation, a spokesman for the Aurora Police Department declined to specifically comment on the complaint.
“The Aurora Police Department takes allegations of misconduct very seriously and officers are required to maintain the high standard of conduct that is expected from members of our community,” Officer Matt Longshore, APD spokesman, wrote in an emailed statement. “In addition, the Aurora Police Department strives for accountability of its officers and works hard within the community to promote transparency.
ACLU lawyers Mark Silverstein and Rebecca Wallace filed the suit in cooperation with Torres’ private attorneys Mari Newman and Andrew McNulty.
“Mr. Torres complied with the officer’s illegal command only to be met with brute force. Aurora then assigned the supervisor on the scene—who participated in the beating—to review the use of force,” Newman said in a statement. “With the fox guarding the hen house, it is unsurprising the City of Aurora found no wrongdoing,”