By Dillon Thomas

UPDATE: As of Friday evening, Oct. 29, Fort Collins Police Services informed CBS4 that the internal affairs department will review the case. 

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – Leadership in Fort Collins Police Services is defending the actions of an officer who used force on a woman experiencing a medical issue at a local church. Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said his team reviewed videos of the forceful takedown and ultimately ruled the actions of his officer were justified and necessary.

(credit: Fort Collins Police)

According to the department, local EMS responded to a call for medical help at a Mennonite church in Fort Collins on Aug. 22. Because the initial 911 call only requested for medical assistance police officers were not asked to assist at first.

However, medical professionals contacted dispatch shortly after arriving on scene of the church reporting the person, later identified as Cynthia Wales, 20, of Fort Collins, experiencing the medical issue was acting disruptively. Medical professionals asked for an officer to respond, and the call was upgraded to an emergent request. Fort Collins police say the nearest officer was asked to respond to the church using lights and sirens.

When the officer arrived on scene his body camera was rolling, as were security and witness cameras.

In videos circulating online from both the church and Fort Collins Police Services, the woman experiencing the crisis could be seen raising her fist in a reportedly threatening way to the officer.

(credit: Fort Collins Police)

“After a brief interaction, the officer used a trained takedown technique to safely take her into custody. Once in custody, she was transported by medical personnel to an area hospital for evaluation of the medical issue that prompted the initial call for service. No injuries were reported in connection with the arrest,” Swoboda released in a statement.

Fort Collins police said their Mental Health Response Team did not respond to the original call for help because it was originally reported as a medical issue, and the medical staff on scene ultimately called for emergent assistance from an officer.

(credit: Mennonite Fellowship Security)

FCPS said their team reviewed the use of force through both body camera footage and a portion of video the Mennonite church provided police. Police said witnesses on scene refused to provide their personal recordings for further review.

“Officers respond to the actions of those they encounter, and in some cases, using force becomes an unfortunate necessity,” Swoboda said. “In every situation, our goal is always to resolve situations as safely as possible.”

The pastor of the church, Steve Ramer, told CBS4 that they recognized that the woman was having a mental health emergency and when 911 was called, they specifically asked that the police not be sent.

Ramer feels that the officers who responded did not attempt to de-escalate the situation, stating “the officer’s actions were not what we expect from our police.”

He has filed a complaint with the ACLU and hopes they work with the police to re-examine their training, procedures and discipline.

“We placed a call to 911,” Ramer told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas. “At no time did any of us feel threatened.”

Ramer said the staff simply wanted to get the young woman medical attention.

“We did not ask for an officer to be on scene,” Ramer said. “We didn’t want police there.”

In the moments that followed EMS’ response, a call for help was made to dispatch. The video the church provided CBS4 did not show what happened during that time which warranted EMS to call for help.

The video given to CBS4 starts after EMS radioed dispatch a second time asking for emergent help from the nearest officer.

Ramer said he didn’t have an explanation as to why the EMS staff would’ve called for help at all, let alone twice and for emergent assistance.

“I am at loss as to why the EMT’s felt it necessary to call in police assistance,” Ramer said.

As the provided video starts a siren can be heard in the background. As requested the nearest officer to the scene responded using lights and sirens. The officer parks his vehicle and immediately is heard telling the woman to stay seated, adding that she was under arrest.

“Within seconds of arriving, he proceeded to confront her,” Ramer said.

As the officer walks toward her, placing on gloves, the girl then stands up and begins to walk away. The officer is heard telling her to stop and remain seated more than once.

“Then upon not following instructions, (the suspect) at one point takes a fighting stance and balls up her fist,” Fort Collins Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said.

The officer raises his hand, seemingly in preparation to block her fist. Then, the officer is seen going hands-on. He eventually corners her against a nearby brick wall, grabs her arm and then forces her to the ground with one arm behind her back. The woman is heard yelling.

“Our officer then used a trained takedown to take her down to the ground uninjured,” Swoboda said.

Ramer is seen in the surveillance video showing signs of disappointment on how the incident escalated. He later told CBS4 he felt the officer took excessive and unnecessary force in the arrest.

Ramer said the woman, aside from experiencing mental crisis, appeared to be cooperative and calm before the officer was dispatched by EMS. CBS4 could not independently confirm that information though the video clips provided. Ramer said his fellow church members confirmed that account.

Some asked why the city’s Mental Health Response Team was not dispatched to this call. Swoboda noted that the team does not currently work seven days a week. That will change in January of 2022.

He also said that, in this situation where the EMS team called for emergent backup, the mental health team still would not have responded.

Swoboda said the actions the officer took were reviewed by leadership and were ruled justified and appropriate.

The officer was not disciplined. Swoboda said the streets of Fort Collins are safer with the officer on duty, adding he believed this incident confirmed that.

“(The suspect) was uninjured and got the help she needed,” Swoboda said. “(In the hospital) she thanked us, she understood why we were doing what we did. We all recognized she needed help. The officer was the one who was able to get her safely into the hands of fire and EMS. If they could have done it without us, they would have.”

Wales died months after the incident when she was struck by a vehicle. Her death was ruled an accident.

Dillon Thomas