Denver will pay $47,500 to settle a case of mistaken identity for which three police officers were disciplined

staff photo

The lawsuit involves an incident from 2014 that started with police looking for the son of a woman accused of threatening her neighbor and that ended with two totally unrelated people in the back of a police car, accused of assaulting an officer and obstruction, charges that were later dismissed.

The city of Denver has agreed to pay $47,500 to settle the case, provided the Denver City Council signs off on the deal Monday night.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, was brought by Dakota Randall, Randall’s girlfriend, Yana Manzhosova, and Randall’s aunt, Linda McGee, against five Denver police officers. The events in question occurred on Sept. 2, 2014. Here’s how they described the incident in their complaint:

Randall and Manzhosova were waiting at a bus stop in Green Valley Ranch when Denver police came out to investigate a dispute between two other families in the neighborhood. A woman told police that a neighbor walked past with her two children and made a threatening comment. Denver police were looking for “Christian,” the son of the suspect in the neighbor dispute, described as a “black male” wearing “black or red shorts.”

According to the lawsuit, Officer Rodney Clark approached Randall at the bus stop, thinking he was “Christian,” to tell him to stay away from the neighbors until mediation could be arranged. Randall told Clark that he wasn’t the person they were looking for, and Clark asked for ID. Randall didn’t have ID, and according to the lawsuit, the officer told him to turn around and grabbed him. Keep in mind, not only was Randall not “Christian,” even “Christian” was not suspected of any crime at this point.

Manzhosova began to film the encounter on her cellphone. According the lawsuit, Clark grabbed her arm to make her stop and then accused her of slapping him.

So Randall, at this point, was afraid. “Recent headlines regarding Denver’s excessive use of force flashed in Plaintiff’s mind,” the lawsuit states. “He backed away from the officer in a defensive manner that could not reasonably be construed to have been ‘hostile’ or ‘assaultive’ as Defendant Officer Clark grabbed Plaintiff Randall with such force that he ripped Plaintiff’s shirt.”

Randall ran to the nearby house of his aunt, Linda McGee, and from there the encounter only escalated as more officers arrived. Clark and Officer Joseph Humphrey pulled their police car onto the lawn. When Randall saw that officers now had their guns drawn, he retreated into the house. According to the lawsuit, as he pushed into the house, Humphrey twisted McGee’s arm so hard it fractured, and Humphrey and Officer Christopher Parker — who knew “Christian” already and knew that Randall wasn’t him — tackled Randall and put him in handcuffs. In the process, they broke a couch in the home. Both Randall and Manzhosova were detained and accused of obstruction and assault on an officer. The lawsuit alleges that officers used excessive force, including choking the pair, in the process of placing them under arrest.

According to the lawsuit, the neighbor who made the original complaint was called over to identify the couple, and she told police the man they had in custody was not the son of the woman who threatened her. They were taken to jail anyway.

After all of this was over, Officer Thomas Green got into a verbal confrontation with McGee. She told him to do his job, and that didn’t go over well. According to the lawsuit:

This made the officer “mad.” He responded by yelling at her to “get a job.” When Ms. McGee told him that she had a job and had retired, the officer forcefully marched over, inches from her face, and began yelling. Defendant Green pressed his body to Plaintiff’s body and repeatedly yelled “say it now,” “say it again to my face,” and “what are you gonna do now,” in a manner that made clear he was threatening physical injury her for her protected, First Amendment, expressions of criticism.

In a response to the lawsuit, Green denied any wrongdoing.

“Officer Green admits only that Plaintiff McGee’s use of profanity directed at him made him ‘mad,'” his attorney stated in a response filed with the court. “Officer Green denies all the remaining allegations.”

In a separate response — they had a different set of attorneys — the other officers also denied any wrongdoing. They admitted that they approached Randall thinking he was someone else, that they made contact with him, that they drew their guns — though not, they said, for the entirety of the incident — and that they arrested Randall and Manzhosova. But they deny using excessive force and put the blame on Randall and Manzhosova for how the incident played out.

According to Denver police records, Clark was suspended for three days for parking his police vehicle on the McGees’ lawn and Green was suspended for 10 days for yelling at McGee and another two days for failing to provide his badge number and a business card. Humphrey received a written reprimand related to the incident.