Second police confrontation with unarmed black man in Boulder may get independent review

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Photo by David von Diemar on Unsplash

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 colo 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.

— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle


0 Comments Leave a comment

  1. You’re going to have to sue them Sammie. All they understand is money and power. That’s why Zaid, who’s part of the wealthy and powerful Naropa, got a whole special meeting and task force. Take their money once and they’ll start respecting you!

  2. I’ll use my real name, Max R. Weller, just to see if it makes any difference on whether or not my comment is allowed to stand.
    Copied from the Boulder Police blotter for April 5, 2019:

    “An officer was contacting three individuals with trash around them at the Mapleton Ballfields when he was approached by a man carrying a long walking stick. The officer asked the man to move back as he was not involved. The man indicated he was going to record the officer’s contact. The officer acknowledged that the man was video recording and asked him to either move back or place his walking stick on the ground so that the officer could finish his contact with the three individuals. The officer told the man that he would be arrested if he did not move back. He refused multiple requests from the officer. While being taken into custody the man fought with officers. The man was medically cleared at Boulder Community Health and then taken to jail. The man was arrested for obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest. Case# 19-3603”

    I have used a cane to get around since 2011, due to a severely arthritic hip. On several occasions, I have been contacted by law enforcement officers from different agencies; a couple of times, I was asked to put aside my cane and also to keep my hands out of my pockets while we talked. I was happy to comply, because I fully realize there is an issue of officer safety that has nothing whatsoever to do with civil rights. BTW, in a decade spent as a homeless camper year-round in Boulder and its environs, I never received a ticket for anything nor was I arrested. The many contacts I had with law enforcement were of the “check welfare” variety in severe weather conditions, except for one incident which led to me filing a formal complaint against then-Officer Sam Carter for leaving the jurisdiction to contact me in the middle of the night; the matter was resolved in my favor, I received an apology, along with assurances that dispatchers in the future would be more careful to communicate the nature of a citizen’s call — check welfare and not a report of a disturbance. I handled my complaint as anyone should, and was satisfied with the outcome.

    On my blog, I published a screenshot of a page from the City of Boulder newsletter for December 2016 / January 2017. It shows Sammie Lawrence in apparent earnest conversation with Officer Abel Ramos of the Boulder PD Homeless Outreach Team. (No walking stick can be seen in the photo. In addition, a Daily Camera article from 2016 states that Sammie Lawrence had arrived in Boulder just 20 days earlier, and wanted to become a Boulder firefighter. When did he become disabled by a seizure disorder? Something treated with skepticism, according to Sammie’s own account on Reddit r/Boulder, by police officers, hospital staff, and Boulder County jailers.)

    Bottom line: Many of us in the broader community who have been around a long while believe that Sammie Lawrence is role-playing the victim of racist cops and of a society which treats the homeless badly (according to some homeless people).

    Sadly, there are many apologists and enablers for bad behavior among homeless people, All it does is make the vast majority of us peaceful and law-abiding homeless folks look bad in the public’s eyes, because anyone who displays a belligerent attitude and then fights the police can play the victim card and gain of ton of support from a gullible populace.

    Thanks for your time!

    Max R. Weller
    Elms Have Care Center 809B
    12080 Bellaire Way
    Thornton, CO 80241

    (303) 450-2700 messages

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