Saturday, April 20, 2019
A second confrontation between Boulder police and an unarmed black man in the past six weeks may get an outside look after the department determined the officer in question did nothing wrong.
Sammie Lawrence was arrested April 5 after filming an officer interacting with persons experiencing homelessness. Recording police is legal in Colorado if it does not interfere with the officers’ work.
In a video Lawrence shared of the encounter, he says the officer requested that Lawrence put down his staff, which he uses as a walking stick because of his disability. Lawrence has stated publicly on several occasions that he suffers from non-epileptic seizures; in the video, he can be heard saying the staff is an assistant device.
Lawrence was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice and resisting arrest. Along with the video, Lawrence posted to Facebook photos of resulting bruises and scrapes inflicted during his arrest. Dozens of residents attended Tuesday’s council meeting to speak in support of Lawrence, who himself gave an emotional testimony.
“April 5 was my first time being arrested,” he said. (Author’s note: The Beat was unable to confirm Lawrence’s arrest record or lack thereof.) “It turned out to be a lot of firsts,” he continued, enumerating his treatment by the officers, and staff at Boulder Community Health hospital, where he was taken.
“The last first time I will speak about is the first time my mother was scared for her baby … as many black women are,” Lawrence concluded.
People experiencing homelessness, people of color, and people with disabilities don’t often receive public attention for the way they are treated by authorities, William McGrew said during open comment. Lawrence, who has spoken before council multiple times, is the exception.
“He stands up for his dignity,” McGrew said, “and we stand with him.”
Jamie Morgan, who is white, said he has filmed police without incident, as has local homeless rights advocate Darren O’Connor, also white. Lawrence’s arrest, along with another recent police confrontation of an unarmed black man, demonstrate that Boulder police are biased, Morgan argued.
“Inadvertently or not, this is what they do,” he said, pounding his fists on the speaker’s podium. “Black live matter, and we won’t rest until they do.”
The city is currently conducting an independent review of a March 1 confrontation between police and Naropa student Zayd Atkinson outside Atkinson’s home. The results of that review will be released alongside those from an internal police department investigation, due toward the end of April or beginning of May.
While City Manager Jane Brautigam apologized to Lawrence for his injuries, she said that “the incident was investigated throughout the chain of command. They found no violations of police rules or policies.”
At the request of council, Brautigam said the city will ask Bob Troyer, handling the Atkinson investigation, to review Lawrence’s case. City Attorney Tom Carr said the body cam footage of Lawrence’s arrest will be released at the conclusion of the criminal proceedings against him.
Carr also criticized the public’s characterization of the encounter, saying Lawrence was asked 12 times to either step back or put down his walking stick. “When an officer says you’re under arrest, fight it in court, not with the officer,” he said.
Boulder’s cops are “worried about how to do their jobs in this environment,” Carr continued, revealing that he and Brautigam met with 100 officers recently. The police are “upset” with the handling of the Atkinson situation.
In this case, the officer “as I’ve seen it, did absolutely nothing wrong,” Carr said, and yet the community is calling for his job. “It’s very hard when people get so emotional.”
In response to Carr’s remarks, resident Jasen Thorpe, who was in attendance Tuesday, on Twitter wrote, “Hopefully, at some point, someone on council will ask not if the cops did something illegal, but if this is how we want police to act.”
To view a Twitter thread of the open comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, click here.