Colorado Springs Police Drew Weapons, Used Excessive Force against African American Man Who Misplaced his Car Keys

Matthew Talley was held at gunpoint, handcuffed, searched, and detained, yet CSPD has no written record of the incident

Affiliate: ACLU of Colorado
July 14, 2015 12:45 pm

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DENVER – The ACLU of Colorado is calling for an internal affairs investigation into the conduct of Colorado Springs police officers who drew their guns, searched, handcuffed, and detained Matthew Talley, a young African American man who was attempting to “jimmy” the ignition of his car on a busy downtown street in broad daylight after he had misplaced his keys.

Officers had no reason to believe Talley was armed or dangerous, yet they approached him with guns drawn and pointed at him, forced him to the ground, searched him, and kept him in handcuffs for more than 20 minutes, long after they could see that he was unarmed, polite, cooperative, and compliant, according to a letter sent by the ACLU this morning to the CSPD Internal Affairs Unit. None of the officers filed any written report of the incident.

“Colorado Springs police must stop relying on force and weapons as a first resort when dealing with young men of color,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “Police had grounds to investigate a potential crime, but their handling of Matthew Talley from the start, just as it was with Ryan and Benjamin Brown, was disproportionate, heavy-handed, and completely over-the -top.”

According to the ACLU letter, the lack of written reports of the incident is itself a reason for concern about police accountability.

“When officers apply force or when they search a citizen, they need to document the facts that they believe justify their actions,” Silverstein said. “Supervisors need to review those reports to assure that officers are using force and conducting searches in accord with the law and police policies. If there are no reports, supervisors have nothing to review, and they cannot know whether officers are carrying out their duties in compliance with law and policy.”

On May 6, Talley was leaving the courthouse after resolving a traffic matter when he realized that he had misplaced the keys to his car, which he was in the process of buying from his employer. After a locksmith helped him open the vehicle, Talley tried to “jimmy” the ignition to get it to start. A nearby observer called 911 to report a possible car theft. The caller said that the man he saw did not appear to be armed and that no one was in danger. He also told the operator that, for all he knew, the car belonged to the individual who was trying to start it.

In what the ACLU identifies as a “remarkable show of force given the circumstances,” at least three squad cars and multiple officers responded to the call. With guns drawn and pointed at Talley, they ordered him out of his car, pulled him to the ground, handcuffed him and searched him. Despite finding no weapons and despite Talley being fully cooperative, officers kept him in handcuffs for more than twenty minutes while they questioned him about the car.

Eventually, the officers correctly concluded that Talley was in lawful possession of the car and un-cuffed him. When he returned to the car, he saw that officers had rummaged through his backpack, which he had not given permission to search.

“I understand the officers’ need to investigate the situation, but it was wrong that they pointed their guns at me, pulled me out of my car, searched me and held me in handcuffs while they interrogated me,” said Talley. “I was polite. I was cooperative. I was no threat to anyone, but the officers treated me as if I was, and I have to believe that was because of the color of my skin.”

In the letter to CSPD, the ACLU of Colorado noted similarities between the officers’ treatment of Talley and the traffic stop of Ryan and Benjamin Brown, two African American men who were pulled over, handcuffed, searched, and detained at gun point and taser point by Colorado Springs police over a cracked windshield.

CSPD sent a brief boilerplate letter last month to Ryan Brown, whose recording of the traffic stop has been viewed more than 150,000 times on YouTube, informing him that the Department’s investigation into the incident had found the officers’ conduct to be “justified, legal, and proper.” The Department subsequently denied an ACLU request for records related to the internal affairs investigation, claiming that disclosure would “not be in the public interest.”

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