DENVER (CBS4) – An Aurora man is preparing to file a lawsuit against the Denver Police Department over the way he was arrested last May during a vice and narcotics raid at a Denver swingers club.
The episode, which 33-year-old Brad Mitchell calls a case of “excessive force,” was captured on videotape that has now been obtained and broadcast by CBS4.
“It makes my stomach sick. It’s hard to watch. It’s still hard to watch,” said Kendall Seifert, the owner of the club.
CBS4 showed the videotape last week to Lt. Matt Murray, a spokesperson for the Denver Police Department. Murray said DPD hadn’t seen the tape until then.
“Apparently the first time he’s going to raise this issue is with a TV station,” Murray said, noting that Mitchell had not filed an official excessive force complaint with the department. “It’s pretty difficult for us to address an issue if he doesn’t want to bring it to our attention.”
The incident occurred May 5, 2010 at the Scarlet Ranch, a swingers club at 424 Broadway. Police raided the establishment after saying they received information suggesting illegal drugs were being sold at the club. They also said they were checking to see if the club was engaged in illegal alcohol sales. The club is not licensed to sell alcohol.
The videotape obtained by CBS4 shows at least half a dozen Denver vice and narcotics officers entering the club through the front door at about 10 p.m. on a Thursday night. They are greeted by Mitchell, a bartender. The tape — which has no audio — shows Mitchell handing his identification to officers immediately after they enter. By all accounts, Mitchell repeatedly asked the officers if they had a warrant to search the club. They told him they didn’t need one.
Mitchell is then seen sitting and waiting as police go about their business. After a few minutes, Sgt. Daniel Steele of the vice and narcotics unit returns to the area where Mitchell is sitting and asks him for a key to a locked office so police could check on the Scarlet Ranch’s license and obtain identification for another club employee. According to Steele’s written statement, Mitchell said, “No, get a warrant.” Steele said when he asked Mitchell for the key a second time, the bartender “mumbled a profanity to me.”
Steele says he then told Mitchell he was interfering with the investigation and ordered the man to stand up. The Sgt. says when Steele did not stand up, he grabbed his left wrist and put him in a “twist lock” hold to stand him up. Within seconds the videotape shows Mitchell standing and lurching forward. It’s unclear if the movement was caused by the wrist lock or by Mitchell moving on his own. Steele quickly puts Mitchell in a headlock and throws him to the ground.
In his statement, Steele says he did this because Mitchell “pulled free of my hands,” was “uncooperative, hostile demeanor as well as his attempts to prevent his own arrest and my control; I determined the suspect posed a significant officer safety risk to myself and the officers posted nearby.”
After being taken down two other officers join in with one of them applying three knee strikes to Mitchell’s leg. The officer says this was needed to get Mitchell to comply.
The club’s owner was out of the country but viewed the videotape when he returned. He doesn’t believe the tape shows any resistance.
“He’s standing there, hands at his side, doesn’t fight, doesn’t put his hands up to protect himself. It makes me have a knot in my stomach watching them grab Brad, who is compliant,” Seifert said.
Mitchell ended up with a small scrape on his forehead that did not require medical attention. Through his attorney, he declined to discuss what happened. Attorney Lon Heymann said he and Mitchell would only discuss the arrest after they filed a lawsuit against Denver police.
CBS4 showed the videotape and police reports of what happened to Mark Leone, a former Denver police lieutenant who is now a professor of criminal justice at Westwood College.
“The officers acted properly,” Leone said. “Does it look bad? Yes. But law enforcement is a full contact sport.”
Leone concluded that the videotape does not depict excessive force.
“When an officer decides action needs to be taken, action needs to be taken swiftly.”
Police arrested Mitchell for resistance, interference, dispensing alcohol without a license and for providing glasses/mixers for alcohol. Mitchell estimates he spent 13 hours in jail before being released. Five months after the incident, a Denver Judge dismissed all charges against Mitchell. That decision was apparently triggered because at least one police witness did not show up for court dates.
Murray said if Mitchell files an official complaint, the department will investigate what happened. Murray added, ‘If he had complied with a lawful order, none of this would have happened.”