It’s not too late to fix Aurora’s ineffective and potentially dangerous police oversight system.
An incident revealed by the American Civil Liberties Union last week shows just how broken the process is for determining whether police used good judgment, acted in good faith and inside the law.
The ACLU released an unnerving video last week taken by Aurora police using body cameras in February depicting two black men being chaotically approached by agitated police.
The incident happened in February on Dallas Street near East Colfax Avenue when officers were racing to a report of a man who allegedly pointed a gun at a 6-year-old child, Aurora Sentinel reporter Brandon Johansson wrote last week.
Police had no description of the suspect’s race, age or size, the ACLU said, only that the person gunman was male.
Officers en route spotted two black men — Darsean Kelley and another man who was not named in the motion — walking along Dallas allegedly arguing with each other, the motion said.
On the video, the officers start yelling and demand that Kelley and the other man sit on the ground, but Kelley says he can’t sit because of a groin injury. It’s unclear from the video whether the officers held the pair at gunpoint.
Kelley raises his hands in the air and continues to argue with the officers, demanding to know why he is being detained. While Kelley has his back to the officers and his hands up, his right arm lowers slightly, at which point an officer shoots him in the back with a Taser.
Kelley falls over backward, screaming from the pain.
As Kelley regains his composure, he asks why he was Tased, and demands to speak to a supervisor.
“Hey, look right here,” one officer told Kelley. “It’s all on video, sweetheart.”
It’s unsettling at best. We’ve consistently defended Aurora police as progressive, professional and compassionate public servants who root out cases like this. All of Aurora wants to hear why this incident meets police standards. We agree with the ACLU, “If what you saw on video is compliant with Aurora police policies, the policies need to be changed.”
The police department’s internal review board discussed the case, and then decided there was no wrongdoing by police. None. More unsettling is that police never told the public about the arrest, nor did they tell the public that they were reviewing a case that could reveal police misconduct — all of this in a the post-Ferguson atmosphere of charged racial trouble between blacks and police.
Police haven’t said why two black men were singled out after no one said a potential gunman was black. They haven’t said why they Tased him for not sitting when he said he was physically unable to do it. Will police Tase any disabled resident unable to meet police demands? How does taunting Kelley and calling him “sweetheart” not violate a police policy?
If this is defensible, we want to hear why. What we don’t want to hear, is that this incident, and similar ones, is “under investigation.” What this incident is now, is disturbing and totally out of line. Now this is also a big, fat check to be signed by Aurora taxpayers to make a near-certain civil-rights lawsuit against these cops and the department go away.
After police discovered Kelley and the other man were unarmed and had nothing to do with the called-out gun incident, they charged him with resisting arrest. Once the ACLU intervened in the case, prosecutors dropped the charges, and rightfully so.
Police last week said they will now elevate that case to a new review board that is an arm of the city and composed of four police officers and four “citizens” chosen by city management. The board has no authority and no oversight power.
And that’s why these incidents will continue.
City lawmakers must revise the oversight board to make it effective, not just happy talk. The city must immediately begin reporting all of these incidents to the public, even if they are under investigation. Transparency does more for credibility than anything else government can do.
And somebody needs to apologize to Kelley, and all the other “sweethearts” in Aurora who don’t want to be treated like he was.