Boulder to pay $95K to Black man arrested while filming ex-officer

Body cam footage shows Sammie Lawrence, standing, filming a police encounter.

Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022 (Updated Tuesday, Jan. 4)

Boulder has agreed to pay $95,000 to Sammie Lawrence, a Black man arrested in 2019 while filming a police interaction with unhoused individuals. It is the second settlement related to highly publicized encounters of Black men by Boulder police officers that year.

The first, in which Naropa student Zayd Atkinson was confronted by armed officers while picking up trash outside his home, drew national media attention and sparked local protests.

The city settled with Atkinson in March 2020 for $125,000.

Lawrence’s arrest came later and with less fanfare. He was charged with obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest. The charges were dismissed after Lawrence completed a deferred sentence; he filed suit in March 2021, asserting that his First and Fourth Amendment rights had been violated.

Investigations into both incidents were subject to independent review due to high community interest. Outside review validated BPD’s procedures. Nonetheless, Boulder established a new citizen oversight group and hired a moderator to serve as a liaison between the panel and the police department in matters of complaints.

Officers in the two cases resigned from Boulder Police Department. Lawrence’s arresting officer, Waylon Lolotai, left BPD in September 2020 amid an investigation into social media posts that glorified the use of force against residents, for which he was placed on administrative leave.

Lolotai’s departure was unrelated to that investigation or the many excessive force allegations that plagued him every since his time at the Denver Sheriff’s Department. The Daily Camera reported that Lolotai left after his home address was posted publicly by activists.

According to city records included in Lawrence’s lawsuit, Lolotai used force on residents 81 times between January 2017 and June 2020, including using his firearm to “gain compliance” 38 times.

“This settlement affords some measure of justice to Sammie Lawrence,” said Dan Williams of Hutchinson Black and Cook, LLC, co-counsel for
Lawrence, in a prepared statements. “We hope this settlement will prompt introspection from City officials, whose lofty rhetoric around policing has lagged far behind the reality of Boulder’s pattern of abusive police conduct.”

In addition to increased oversight, BPD revamped its use of force policies in August 2020.

Per Boulder’s charter, settlements over $10,000 have to be OK’d by city council. They unanimously approved the payout Tuesday. The item was on the consent agenda, which historically does not receive discussion. Two elected officials did direct comments to Lawrence.

“I’m sorry for what you went through,” said councilwoman Nicole Speer. Councilwoman Rachel Friend added, “I hope this settlement brings you some peace.”

(Author’s note: This article has been updated to include a statement from Lawrence’s attorneys, additional information from the lawsuit and action from city council Tuesday.)

— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle

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