A deaf Colorado man has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that two local police officers slammed him to the ground and tasered him without recognizing his disability when they arrested him after stopping him for running a stop sign.
Attorneys for Brady Mistic, who spent four months in jail, filed the lawsuit two weeks ago in the US District Court in Denver against Officers Nicholas Hanning and Ellie Summers, the city of Idaho Springs and the Board of County Commissioners of Clear Creek County.
The 2019 arrest was captured on body camera footage from at least one of the officers, which was shared with CNN by Mistic’s attorneys. Mistic is deaf in both ears and primarily uses sign language to communicate.
The charges against Mistic, which include second-degree assault on a police officer and resisting arrest, were eventually dropped, according to the lawsuit. Mistic was also charged with criminal possession of a forged instrument after Summers found what appeared to be 24 $100 bills in his wallet, which she said felt like they were made of printer paper with Chinese symbols on the back of the bill, according to the police report.
According to the lawsuit, the bills were “fake movie-prop money with Chinese characters from Wish.com,” which is an online marketplace. “Possessing play money without any intent or attempt to pass it off as real money is not a crime,” the filing says.
Mistic was held in jail for four months with an extremely high bond due to the serious nature of the charges and could not pay his bail, according to his attorney Raymond Bryant. Mistic’s bond was first lowered to $3,000, which he still could not afford, and then he was granted a personal recognizance bond, releasing him from jail without having to post any money, Raymond said.
The prosecution against Mistic continued for almost two years until District Attorney Heidi McCollum moved to dismiss his charges in July. In the lawsuit, Mistic claims he was denied an interpreter while in jail.
He’s seeking compensation for “physical and emotional harm, pain and suffering, permanent scarring, and economic damages, as well as punitive sanctions against the individual officers to punish and deter the blatant abuse of authority and violation of rights evident here.”
“While in jail, Mr. Mistic suffered even further indignity, humiliation, isolation, and discrimination due to being deaf due to being unable to communicate,” the lawsuit says. He was also allegedly denied an interpreter during his meetings with his attorney while in jail. The Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for the jail’s operation under the supervision of Sheriff Rick Albers.
The sheriff’s office declined to comment on the case when contacted by CNN, due to pending litigation.
“This is a civil rights action seeking justice for the shocking use of unnecessary police force and wrongful incarceration of a deaf man whom the Defendant officers rashly attacked after failing to recognize his disability and misinterpreting his non-threatening attempts to see and communicate as challenges to police authority,” according to the lawsuit.
In response, the Idaho Springs Police Department released a statement that says, “The officers gave verbal commands for Mr. Mistic to get back in his vehicle. It was later determined Mr. Mistic was deaf, but this fact was not known to the officers during the initial encounter.”
“The incident was reviewed by former Chief Christian Malanka and the officers’ actions were deemed to be appropriate,” the department said.
“Due to pending civil litigation there will be no further statements regarding this incident,” the statement added.
Both Hanning and Summers were named as defendants in another lawsuit filed in federal court in July stemming from an incident in late May. Hanning was charged with third-degree assault by District Attorney McCollum after he used a Taser on 75-year-old Michael Clark in his home, according to a press release from Colorado Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
As the officers responded to a disturbance call at Clark’s apartment, he opened the door “holding a club-like object with what appeared to be teeth along the edges,” according to a news release from the police department.
In footage of the incident distributed by Clark’s lawyer, Hanning can be seen forcing his way into the man’s apartment and pushing Clark against the wall — before giving a verbal command or identifying himself as a police officer.
The officers give different commands while Clark complains about the noise from his neighbors and Hanning subsequently uses his Taser, which strikes Clark in the abdomen and pelvic area, the affidavit says. According to the lawsuit, Hanning is also accused of putting a knee onto and over Clark’s head and neck, causing an injury to his carotid artery, which was followed by a stroke.
The Idaho Springs Police Department told CNN that Hanning is no longer with the department but did not disclose whether he was fired and for what reason.
CNN contacted lawyers for Hanning and Summers for comment but did not immediately receive a response. A lawyer for the Board of County Commissioners of Clear Creek County also did not immediately return a request for comment.
Both officers can be heard in body camera footage demanding that Mistic get back into his car and they claimed in police reports that Mistic failed to comply with their demands and felt like he was about to attack them.
According to the lawsuit, however, Mistic is unable to lip-read and can vocalize a few words, and it’s “necessary for him to use writing to communicate with persons who do not know ASL,” the lawsuit says.
While he was in handcuffs, Mistic was unable to write responses to communicate with the officers or use ASL and stood up in an attempt to indicate that he needed to write in order to communicate, the lawsuit says.
“When one of the officers hurt himself in the course of the attack, the Defendant officers falsely charged the deaf man with assault on a police officer in an illusory attempt to cover up their misconduct — which caused the man to unjustifiably spend months in jail without appropriate accommodations to help him communicate that he was, in fact, the victim,” the lawsuit states.
Mistic’s lawyer Raymond Bryant said in a statement to CNN, “One of the biggest concerns I have about this case is that the officers used force so rashly and quickly. Within 7 seconds of exiting their vehicle, without looking or listening to assess the situation, and without utilizing any reasonable attempts at communication, the officers went hands-on and used force on Mr. Mistic. They did not have justification.”
“Even if Mr. Mistic could hear the officers, they did not tell him he was being stopped, detained, arrested, or otherwise had a legal obligation to do anything other than what he did (which was just to stand still and attempt to see/communicate before being assaulted),” the statement continues.
The lawyers add that “the ADA creates an additional layer of affirmative obligations on police officers to ensure that they are able to effectively communicate with disabled members of the public, like Mr. Mistic.”
Altercation stems from traffic stop
The lawsuit stems from a traffic stop on September 17, 2019, in Idaho Springs after Mistic allegedly ran a stop sign before driving into the parking lot of a laundromat, according to the police report shared with CNN by Mistic’s attorneys.
Mistic, who drove a white SUV, “never slowed down for the intersection and continued to travel through it at about the same speed,” the report says. Officer Summers was in the driver’s seat and Hanning, her field training officer, was in the passenger seat, according to the police report.
While Summers notified dispatch of the traffic stop, Mistic exited his vehicle and walked “briskly to the back of his vehicle” toward the police car, the report says. Hanning wrote in the police report that Mistic’s facial features turned into “rage with his face scowled and his eye brows furrowed,” adding, “I knew an attack was imminent.”
Summers said she feared for her safety, drew her service pistol and held it at a low position until she could see that Mistic was unarmed, her police report says.
In the lawsuit, lawyers say Mistic parked his car and began walking toward the laundromat entrance when he was “blinded by police lights, and unable to hear or know what was going on. He had no idea what was happening, what the police were doing, or if the officers’ presence had anything to do with him.”
Mistic tried to communicate with his hands in a “non-threatening manner” when the officers grabbed him, slammed him to the ground, and tasered him “despite him saying ‘no ears’ to communicate he was deaf,” the lawsuit says.
According to the police report, Hanning grabbed Mistic by his right wrist, when he “violently pulled away by punching his hand away from my grasp.” As he attempted to take Mistic to the ground, Hanning fell backward and struck his head, which caused his vision to go black for a “split second,” he wrote in the report. Mistic then fell on top of Hanning and his body camera fell loose, the report says.
In the meantime, Summers gave Mistic commands of compliance to put him in handcuffs, the report says. At this point, Hanning had “tremendous” pain in his right lower leg and ankle and instructed Summers to taser Mistic, Hanning wrote in his police report.
Body camera footage from the incident, reviewed by CNN, shows roughly seven seconds pass between the officers pulling into the laundromat parking lot and the physical encounter taking place.
Summer is heard in the footage commanding Mistic to sit back in his car twice before she and Hanning exited the vehicle and approached him. Hanning is heard saying, “You’re gonna come up on us like that? Excuse me? Who do you think you are?” as Mistic stands in front of the police car.
The footage shows Mistic on the ground as Summers yells at him to put his arms behind his back and threatens to tase him. Hanning instructs Summers to use the Taser, and she tases him and continues to demand that he put his arms behind his back.
Mistic can be heard yelling out in the video and asks, “Why this happen?”
“Defendants knew or should have known by Mr. Mistic’s lack of speech, hand gestures, and/or thick-tongued articulation of the words “no ears” that he was deaf and could not hear or understand the officers,” the lawsuit says.
Once the incident subsides, Summers is heard saying to Mistic as he sits on the ground, “Don’t run at us like that, just stay sitting down.” She then appears to realize he is deaf and asks Mistic if he is OK and if anything hurts.
Deputies on the scene placed Mistic in Summers’ vehicle and she transported him to St. Anthony’s Hospital for “medical clearance,” according to the police report.
In the hospital, Summers then used an interpreter to communicate with him why he was in custody and that he was going to jail, according to her police report. Mistic was medically cleared and Hanning had broken his right tibia and fibula in his leg, the police report says.
‘You didn’t know I was deaf,’ Mistic said
A second body camera video from Summers, reviewed by CNN, shows the officer and Mistic in a hospital room where she communicates with him through an interpreter. Summers tells the interpreter that the officers stopped Mistic for failing to stop at the stop sign when he got out of his car and approached her car “very quickly.” She added, “that’s not how that’s supposed to work, so we got out and tried to contact you.”
According to Mistic, he understood that he failed to stop but does not understand the subsequent interaction. “When I got pulled over, I tried to come because the light was in my face and it scared me,” Mistic said through the interpreter. “I couldn’t see, and I didn’t like that and I was frustrated so I came over to see what was going over because of me,” the footage shows.
Summers then tells Mistic that he is going to jail, to which he responded through the interpreter: “I didn’t fire anything, you grabbed me and took me down on the ground. And later I got frustrated. I was trying to talk, I was trying to say something, but you didn’t know I was deaf.”
Mistic adds, “I’m surprised, what am I going to jail for?”
Summers tells Mistic he’s going to jail for resisting arrest, assault in the second degree and a stop sign violation.
“Assault in the second degree?” Mistic says through the interpreter. “That sounds like I was trying to kill someone. I wasn’t doing anything. When I came to try and talk with you, you pulled me down.”
According to the lawsuit, Mistic neither threatened, physically harmed or fought with the officers nor did he flee or attempt to flee the scene.
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