Sammie Lawrence sues Boulder, former police officer over 2019 arrest – The Denver Post
Sammie Lawrence, the Black man arrested by former Boulder Officer Waylon Lolotai while filming police in 2019, has filed a lawsuit against the former officer and the city.
Lawrence, through his attorney Darren O’Connor, sent a letter to Boulder City Attorney Tom Carr in December threatening legal action unless Lawrence was “made whole for the violations of his basic rights.”
Boulder officials said at the time the city “does not believe that Mr. Lawrence has the legal grounds for a successful lawsuit,” and in a Monday news release O’Connor and co-counsel Dan Williams confirmed the city declined to discuss a settlement in the case.
“Boulder likes to think of itself as an inclusive and welcoming community,” Williams said in a statement. “To live up to those values, it first needs to stop racist and anti-homeless policing.”
Boulder officials declined to comment Tuesday because a case has now been filed, as per city policy.
The suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, names Boulder and Lolotai as defendants and alleges they violated Lawrence’s First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights.
“This is an action that goes to the heart of the United States Constitution: a citizen’s right to freedom of speech and to be free of unreasonable seizures,” the complaint reads. “It arises from a city of Boulder police officer violently arresting an African-American man when he lawfully and respectfully exercised his right to film the police officer questioning people in a public park.”
According to police, Lolotai was doing extra patrols on April 5, 2019, near 30th Street and Mapleton Avenue when he responded to a 911 call for a large number of homeless people in the area littering, smoking marijuana and disturbing people.
Lolotai activated his body-worn camera and began talking to three homeless individuals seated by a concession building when Lawrence approached and began filming the interaction.
According to the report, Lawrence had a “large wooden staff” in his hand, and Lolotai asked Lawrence several times to step back or put the staff down.
When two other officers arrived, one of them also asked Lawrence to move back, while Lolotai again told Lawrence to put down the “staff.” According to police, Lolotai went to place Lawrence in handcuffs, and Lawrence pulled away and resisted. Lolotai attempted to use two police-trained techniques, a knee strike and an arm bar, before then tackling Lawrence to the ground and cuffing him.
Lawrence has maintained that the “staff” in question was a cane used as walking aid and that he was not interfering with the police and was simply documenting the interaction.
“The city of Boulder has a widespread practice amounting to a custom and policy of unlawfully arresting and applying excessive force to persons for questioning the directions of police officers, refusing to comply with voluntary interview requests, recording officers’ conduct, and otherwise exercising their First Amendment Rights,” the complaint reads. “The city of Boulder has failed adequately to train its police officers in the appropriate way to respond to persons who question the unlawful directions of police officers, refuse to comply with requests to stop recording or observing police activities, and otherwise exercise their First Amendment Rights, including but not limited to failure to train BPD officers in appropriate ways to deescalate conflict.”
Lawrence was charged with obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest in the incident. he ultimately took a plea deal in the case, but the guilty pleas were withdrawn and the charges were dismissed after he successfully completed a deferred sentence in the case, according to court records.
Boulder police did not submit the incident to internal review, and an independent investigation later supported that decision.
However, Lolotai became the subject of further controversy and was placed on administrative leave in April after several excessive force complaints and social media posts celebrating police violence.
A professional standards investigation into the social media posts found Lolotai violated two departmental policies — one related to the use of social media and another related to outside employment, the release states.
Boulder police Chief Maris Herold said the infractions were considered “minor,” and Lolotai would not have been terminated, but he chose to leave the department in September.
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