Aurora will pay $335,000 to settle a lawsuit with a woman who was tackled, punched and kicked in the head by a police sergeant, who then arrested the woman on an assault charge.
The settlement, which was finalized on Tuesday, illustrates what happens when police officers fail to recognize their own emotions and cannot de-escalate tense situations, said Adam Frank, an attorney who represented OyZhana Williams, the victim, in a federal civil rights lawsuit. Williams, a mother of two young children, also has had her criminal charges dismissed, he said.
“It’s the ultimate case of contempt of cop,” Frank said. “It’s obvious the most dangerous thing you can do is not break any laws but make a cop mad at you.”
The incident happened on Dec. 22, 2015, when Williams and two other people drove her boyfriend to an urgent care clinic on East Mississippi Avenue because he had been shot. Officers arrived after the medical staff reported a shooting victim had been brought to the facility.
Officers interviewed Williams and searched her car. Then, former Aurora Police Department Sgt. Mike Hawkins told Williams that he wanted to seize her car and demanded she hand over her keys, according to the lawsuit. But Williams questioned the legality of his order to seize the car, Frank said.
“The important part is he had no legal right to demand the keys,” Frank said.
In the video, Hawkins escorted Williams to a patrol car and opens a back door for her to get inside. Williams stood inside the open door and talked for about one minute to Hawkins, who appeared animated.
About a minute into the discussion, Williams raised her arm, dropped her keys on the ground and then got inside the car. But Hawkins yanked Williams out of the backseat, spun her around and slammed her back against the patrol car’s trunk. Hawkins and another officer put their arms around Williams’s neck and torso and slammed her to the ground.
Before walking away, Hawkins stomped Williams. The lawsuit said he stomped her head.
After the incident, Hawkins conferred with officers Jordan Odneal and Jose Ortiz, and they wrote an incident report accusing Williams of assaulting Hawkins. She was charged with second-degree assault of a police officer, third-degree assault of a first responder, resisting arrest and obstructing a police officer. She spent eight days in jail, including Christmas 2015, Frank said. She also was fired from a job she had just started when a criminal background check revealed the assault charge.
Williams faced a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison. All charges were dismissed by the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s Office in November 2016, according to court records.
If there had not been a video, Williams would have been forced to go to trial on a criminal charge where it would have been her story versus that of three police officers, Frank said. He also doubted that Aurora would have settled the case.
“Officer Odneal and Officer Ortiz should have reported Hawkins’ brutality and taken a completely different tact,” Frank said. “Instead, we saw two officers defend their sergeant and Ms. Williams had to fight for her freedom for nearly a year.”
Williams did not want to speak to the media about the officers’ attack, Frank said. She is ready to move on, he said.
The city of Aurora’s communications department issued a statement on behalf of City Attorney Mike Hyman saying it was not admitting liability in the case.
“This case was settled for the reason that many cases are settled – to avoid the cost of prolonged litigation,” the statement said. “That cost would have far exceeded the value of the settlement.”
Hawkins retired from the Aurora Police Department in January, said Sgt. Chris Neiman, a police spokesman. Odneal and Ortiz remain on the police force, but an internal affairs investigation is pending, he said.
Since the incident, Aurora police officers have started wearing body cameras. And Chief Nick Metz has moved the internal affairs division into its own space away from the department’s headquarters at the Aurora Town Center.
Noelle Phillips | The Denver Post, , “Aurora settles police brutality case with woman who was stomped on the head by a sergeant “, https://www.denverpost.com/2018/05/22/aurora-police-brutality-woman-kicked-in-head-settlement/