Video release in controversial Carbondale arrest shows surprise encounter, sheds light on police, suspect reaction
Grocery store surveillance captures ‘pointing’ incident at gas kiosk that prompted store, police response
Carbondale resident Michael Francisco appears caught off guard when contacted by police officers at the local City Market store last Christmas Eve, police officer body camera video footage of the resisting arrest incident released this week shows.
In total, nearly 3 hours of body cam and store surveillance footage, along with written police investigation affidavits in the case, were obtained through a Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act request by the Post Independent.
The body cam video starts at about 5:45 p.m. on Dec. 24, 2020. A short time earlier, a store manager told Carbondale Police Chief Kirk Wilson, who happened to be in the store at the time, that they wanted the suspect removed from the premises. Wilson called in his officers on duty to handle the situation.
After looking throughout the store for the suspect, two Carbondale police officers, both equipped with chest-mounted body cameras, confront Francisco at the self-checkout station where he was preparing to scan his items for purchase.
Francisco, 55, who is Black, and which has led to claims from him and his supporters that the arrest was racially motivated, is charged in Carbondale Municipal Court with misdemeanor resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and police obstruction. His case was continued from a Monday hearing until May 24, with the possibility of a plea settlement on the table.
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“Me?,” Francisco asked when advised by one of the officers, who explains that the manager was told he had been “causing problems” outside at the City Market fueling station before coming into the store.
An officer asks Francisco for his identification, to which he responds, “Why? For what?”
Francisco, who minutes into the confrontation mentions that he works for the Aspen City Market store, explains that he knows the Carbondale store manager who was on duty at the time, and that he had just spoken to her upon entering the store.
He asks that they call her over to sort things out.
The officers again ask for Francisco to show his ID.
He refused, saying he “hasn’t done anything.”
Officers explain they were asked to have him removed from the store, and that he was trespassing. Francisco pleads that he was never asked by anyone to leave the store.
The officers then move in to restrain Francisco, again asking him to produce his ID and advising him not to resist.
Francisco struggles with the officers, who eventually take him to the floor and, after some time, place him in handcuffs, while dozens of customers are seen in the background going about their holiday shopping.
The situation becomes verbally heated, with a few expletives coming from Francisco’s mouth.
“I’m resisting because I didn’t do anything, man,” pleads Francisco, who during the scuffle has his religious head covering, known as a tam, or rasta cap, removed from his head during a body search.
Raised in Belize, Francisco, 55, is a practicing Rastafarian. A resident of Carbondale for about 10 years, he hosts a popular reggae music show on local radio station KDNK.
“You’re going to get sued,” Francisco says when his tam gets pulled off, adding he believes his religious rights were being violated. “You just made a mistake.”
Officers continue to explain why he’s being detained, saying, “They told us they didn’t want you in here, and we asked you politely to get out, and you didn’t get out.”
About that same time, Chief Wilson arrives back on scene, also with his body camera activated.
Before the arrest, Wilson was present when the store manager got the call from the fuel kiosk worker, who advised that Francisco had allegedly pointed at her through the window and “looked at her all mean,” according to one of the officer’s follow-up investigation reports when the worker was questioned.
A follow-up investigation report from the other officer involved suggested that, after viewing video surveillance from the fuel station, the point in question, “while not threatening … seemed more aggressive than a normal point.”
Francisco’s attorney, Michael Edminister, has also said that, upon viewing the surveillance video, he interpreted the point as more friendly in nature.
Police chief intervenes
Inside the store during the ongoing floor scuffle, Wilson seeks to calm Francisco down upon his arrival, and asks several times for his name, which the officers still have not obtained at this point, video evidence shows.
He also advises the officers to properly place the tam back on Francisco’s head.
“The store is asking us to ask you to leave,” Wilson says. “…You have been asked to leave. Why are you not complying?”
Francisco explains again that he was never asked to leave by anyone in the store, and repeats that he knows the manager.
Wilson clarifies that the store manager asked the police to take care of the situation, which as a private property owner they have the right to do, he said.
The struggle inside the store plays out for more than 12 minutes, with Francisco repeatedly saying he did nothing wrong. Officers complete their search and gather up several of Francisco’s belongings, including keys, several pieces of paper and food items, and a box cutter.
He is eventually removed from the store, at times dragging his feet, before being placed in a patrol car outside, the police video shows.
Surveillance captures ’pointing’ incident
Nearly 26 minutes of store surveillance video, both at the fuel station and at the self-checkout station, was also provided as part of the records request.
It shows Francisco drive up to fuel his vehicle and, after finishing, pulling away to apparently park someplace behind the kiosk.
The camera view switches to inside the kiosk looking out the front window, when Francisco walks up. He’s wearing an Adidas soccer jacket with a light blue hoodie underneath, but with the hood down. He’s also wearing a blue facemask — per town ordinance during the pandemic at that time — and his traditional dark green-colored tam.
Video footage shows him fiddling in his pocket for his wallet and taking out a card to pay for his items. While the kiosk manager is processing the transaction, Francisco is seen to step to his left slightly and give a quick point, less than a second, apparently directed at the other worker in the back of the kiosk.
The edited surveillance footage then switches to the ceiling-mount camera view above the self-checkout area inside the main store. It captures the same confrontation with the police officers as shown in the body cam footage, but from the aerial angle.
‘You can’t fight with officers’
Sworn affidavits from the two officers who made the initial contact with Francisco, as well as from Chief Wilson, also seem to accurately reflect what was captured in the body camera videos.
Wilson’s camera also captures his conversation outside the store with an acquaintance of Francisco who had accompanied him inside the store, as Francisco is in the patrol car and the other officers begin processing paperwork.
The friend suggests that he believes the police response to the situation was “unreasonable” and “inappropriate,” and that he’s known Francisco for quite some time.
Wilson suggests that it was Francisco who acted inappropriately when he refused to obey the police officers’ orders to identify himself.
“You can’t fight with officers,” Wilson is heard to say at one point. “You can disagree, but we disagree in court. …We don’t struggle, and we don’t resist.”
Wilson, a former Rifle police sergeant who took over as Carbondale Police Chief last September, has been outspoken against some of the controversial actions of police over the past year, especially involving interactions with people of color.
At the same time, “When officers tell people to do things, if they disagree, there’s a civil process for remedying that. …I think this last year or so we’ve lost track of that nationwide.”
The final segment of the arresting officers’ body cam footage shows Francisco being processed outside the police station, and ultimately released on a summons to appear in municipal court on Jan. 11, 2021.
There’s also a dispute about a missing set of keys that Francisco was holding at the time of the initial contact with the officers. Clearly still upset at the situation, Francisco accused police of stealing his keys.
Outside Carbondale Town Hall after his Monday court hearing, Francisco maintained that he hopes to have the charges dropped altogether, but that he’s optimistic for a possible restorative justice process to air out what happened in a mediated setting.
“I was just trying to get an answer about why (the officers) were approaching me,” Francisco said of that initial contact at the grocery check-out. “We could have resolved it all right at that moment. An encounter like that doesn’t have to go where it went.”
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.