DENVER - The ACLU of Colorado filed a federal lawsuit this morning on behalf of Omar Hassan, a black man who was forcibly removed from a coffee shop by two Aurora Police officers who told him, “Your kind of business is not welcome here.”
Hassan did nothing more than order a muffin and sit down to eat it when, according to the lawsuit, the two officers singled him out because of his race and, with their hands placed on their guns, forced him to leave.
“Our client is the victim of unjustifiable racial profiling,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “Police officers had no grounds, no basis, and no legitimate authority to order Mr. Hassan to leave the coffee shop.”
According to the lawsuit, on March 16, 2016, Hassan entered a Caribou Coffee in Aurora and approached the counter to purchase a muffin. He had just finished a night shift at work and was dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, sweatpants, and work boots.
Aurora police officers Machelle Williby and Lisa Calcamuggio took notice of him and stood close behind him as he ordered. They then followed him to a table, stood directly over him with their hands placed on their guns, and commanded him to leave.
When Hassan asked why he was being told to leave, Officer Williby responded, “Your kind of business is not welcome here.” Hassan then asked, “Who says that?” Officer Williby motioned her head toward the counter and said, “They do.”
Management, however, made it clear that the police officers were acting on their own. Employees of the coffee shop did not ask police to remove Hassan, nor had there been any complaints about him, according to a signed affidavit from the manager on duty at the time of the incident.
“I did nothing wrong that morning and was targeted because I was a black man wearing a hoodie,” Hassan said. “When I walked into the coffee shop, I thought I could buy my breakfast and eat it, just like everyone else. The next thing I knew, two police officers were standing over me, hands on their guns, ordering me to leave. At that moment, I thought things could go very wrong and I could be another unarmed black man gunned down by the police. I was afraid and followed their orders, even though I knew what they were doing was wrong. Now, with the ACLU at my side, I’m fighting back against racial profiling by the Aurora police.”
According to the ACLU complaint, “Mr. Hassan’s experience in discrimination is unique in its reflection of both historical and modern-day racism. His dress, including a hoodie, made him a particular target as a black man in the current environment. Officer Williby then vocalized her prejudice by telling Mr. Hassan his ‘kind’ was not welcome at the coffee shop, a statement steeped in historical racism.”
“Aurora police officers have been named in incident after incident of mistreating young persons of color and violating their constitutional rights, and the department has repeatedly failed to hold its officers accountable,” Silverstein said. “Our client’s complaint to internal affairs produced zero results, and Aurora refuses to release any details. The department clearly needs effective anti-bias training and a truly independent citizen oversight body.”
The lawsuit, which was filed this morning in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Hassan is represented by Silverstein, as well as ACLU staff attorneys Rebecca T. Wallace and Arash Jahanian.
Read the ACLU complaint: