DENVER — The City of Aurora will pay $110,000 to settle claims brought by ACLU of Colorado on behalf of Darsean Kelley, a young Black man who was unlawfully stopped, detained, and tased in the back by Aurora police just as he said “I know my rights.”
A video, taken from an officer’s body camera and released by the ACLU last September, gained national attention and accumulated more than 1 million views.
“Through constructive, respectful dialogue, the ACLU of Colorado and the City of Aurora, through the City Attorney's Office, were able to work together to resolve this case promptly and without expensive and time-consuming litigation,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “The ACLU commends the City of Aurora for its willingness to come to the table in good faith to find a resolution that is fair to Mr. Kelley and beneficial for taxpayers of the City.”
“However, the decision of the Aurora City Attorney’s Office to fairly and promptly resolve this matter stands in stark contrast to the actions of the Aurora Police Department, which at every turn has refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing or need for policy change even in the face of public outrage and irrefutable video evidence of misconduct,” said Silverstein. “The Aurora Police Department has no written policy whatsoever explaining when police can and cannot fire their tasers. And the Department desperately needs truly independent citizen oversight to hold the police accountable for wrongdoing.”
On February 19, 2016, Kelley and his cousin were walking along 14th Avenue in Aurora when they were stopped by Aurora police officers who were responding to a call about a potential crime at a nearby apartment complex. The officers had no description of a suspect and no reason to believe that Kelley had been involved in that incident or in any other criminal activity.
The officers refused to tell Kelley why he was being stopped. He asked several times if the officers were detaining him. Eventually, they confirmed that he was, in fact, being detained. As they yelled orders at him, he repeatedly asked “for what?”
Following the officers’ orders, Kelley placed his hands in the air and turned around. He kept his hands up with his fingers outstretched, making it clear that he was not a physical threat. He briefly pointed to his chest as he declared, “I know my rights.” At that moment, an officer shot him in the back with a taser. He lost all muscular control and fell straight backwards, striking his head on the street pavement.
Aurora Police arrested Kelley and charged him with disorderly conduct. He spent three days in jail before he could bond out. ACLU lawyers successfully defended Kelley in the criminal case, winning dismissal after filing a motion arguing that the illegal street detention violated the Fourth Amendment.
Aurora police internal affairs and a convening of the Department’s purportedly independent Internal Review Board (IRB), which focuses on cases of “significant community interest,” reviewed the incident and determined that the use of force against Kelley was “reasonable, appropriate and within policy.” The IRB concluded that nothing in the incident “warrants further investigation.”
“That the Aurora Police Department reviewed this incident and gave it a departmental stamp of approval shows the Department is incapable of policing itself,” said ACLU Staff Attorney Rebecca Wallace, who led the settlement negotiation for ACLU of Colorado. “If what happened to Darsean Kelley is business as usual for the Aurora Police Department — as their own review board found — then Aurora taxpayers can expect to continue to foot the bill while black and brown men suffer at the hands of police.”
In addition to Silverstein and Wallace, Kelley was represented by ACLU Cooperating Attorneys Ahson Wali of Elinoff and Associates LLC and Dan Recht and Megan Downing of Recht Kornfeld PC.
The video of Kelley's encounter with police can be found here: http://bit.ly/2tDTwP4