Lawsuit filed against Basalt cops over bar confrontation
July 14, 2010
BASALT – A Basalt man filed a lawsuit Monday against three Basalt police officers for allegedly violating his constitutional rights when they arrested him after he yelled at them in a bar last summer.
Ian Gray told the three cops, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass” as they exited the Basalt Bistro last August. His lawsuit contends they overreacted to the slight and they roughed him up.
Gray alleged in the complaint that the officers “unlawfully confronted, detained, used unreasonable force upon, and arrested the plaintiff, and improperly interfered with plaintiff’s exercise of protected free speech.”
The incident unfolded at about 12:30 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2009, when Basalt Sgt. Stewart Curry and officers Michael Taylor and Brian Lemke conducted a “walk-through” of Basalt Bistro.
“During the patrol, several bar patrons verbally expressed their disapproval of [the] defendants’ presence,” the complaint says. “As defendants exited the bar, plaintiff expressed his disapproval of their presence by yelling, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.”
The complaint said the three officers exited the bar but re-entered a short time later. Lemke allegedly told Gray he needed to come outside. Gray refused.
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“Officer Lemke then forcefully removed plaintiff from the barstool, dropped him to the barroom floor, repeatedly struck the plaintiff’s arms, brought plaintiff’s arms behind his back, and handcuffed him,” the complaint says.
Gray was led outside, the handcuffs were removed, and he was released without explanation. The police department turned the information about the incident over to the Eagle County District Attorney’s office without a recommendation on whether to pursue charges. Three weeks later, the district attorney’s office served Gray and a friend he was drinking with on the night of the confrontation with summonses for two misdemeanors – harassment and obstructing a police officer. The charges against Gray were dropped in January. They were dropped in February against the other man. A prosecutor at the time said the charges were dropped because a conviction was unlikely.
The lawsuit claims the officers violated Gray’s rights under the U.S. Constitution in multiple ways:
They allegedly violated his Fourth Amendment right “to be free from the state’s unreasonable use of force and to not be subjected to unlawful arrest.”
They allegedly violated his First Amendment rights “to be free from state interference with the exercise of protected free speech and to be free from state retaliation for the exercised of protected free speech.”
Gray claimed he suffered physical injuries, including tendon, ligament and possibly other damage to his right shoulder; lacerations and bruising to his wrists; bruising to his forearms; and bruising to his right lower jaw line. He also said he suffered pain and suffering, fear, anxiety, loss of liberty, embarrassment and humiliation, emotional trauma and psychological harm, “some or all of which may be permanent.”
The Basalt town government was also named in the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Denver. Basalt officials at a Town Council meeting Tuesday night said they hadn’t been served with the lawsuit yet and they declined comment.
The lawsuit says the town was named because it has “encouraged, tolerated, ratified and has been deliberately indifferent” to practices such as unreasonable use of force, unlawful arrest and interference with the exercise of free speech. The lawsuit further alleges that the town failed to make officers follow established policies and procedures on how to conduct bar sweeps.
Gray wants a jury trial. He is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees, as well as a declaratory judgment that the defendants violated his constitutional rights.
The town and the individual officers will have an opportunity to answer the allegations and fight Gray’s claims in court.