The Loveland Police Department is facing another excessive use of force lawsuit after the release of information and footage of a 2020 arrest of a man and his then-14-year-old daughter as well as the treatment of one of their family dogs. The city, in turn, has announced it will re-hire consulting company Jensen Hughes to investigate the incident.
Sarah Schielke of the Life and Liberty Law Office filed a lawsuit against the department and three of its officers — Jeremiah Wood, Matt Sychla and Evan Dunlap — for the arrest of Jon Siers and his daughter, only named as S.S. in the suit, in front of their home in Loveland in June of 2020.
The suit, filed in the 8th Judicial District Court on Wednesday morning, lists three claims for relief: unreasonable seizure and excessive force resulting in the abuse of their dog Skippy and wrongful arrest of Siers by Sychla; violation of due process and malicious prosecution of Siers by Sychla; and unreasonable seizure and excessive force with an arrest of S.S. by Wood and Dunlap.
The suit claims that Siers and S.S. are seeking declaratory relief and economic damages as well as compensatory damages, among other things, through a jury trial.
In a news release and in discussions with the Reporter-Herald, Schielke described the arrest as senseless and needless violence. The city, in response, said it will conduct an independent review and maintained that it is committed to accountability.
As with previous cases Schielke has brought forth, the newest case against the department came not only with a written description in the lawsuit itself but also with a YouTube video providing both body-worn camera and security camera footage of the incident.
The city also released its own video with footage from the incident from Sychla’s body-worn camera, which includes the incident itself as well as Siers’ arrest and discussion with Sychla. In that video, Sychla can be heard explaining to Siers why he used force, explaining he wasn’t sure what the Siers’ intentions were. He also added that Skippy had bitten one of the officers involved.
According to the suit, S.S., who was 14 years old at the time, lived with Siers at their home in Loveland. She had been dating 18-year-old Elijah Hall and, around lunchtime on June 20, 2020, she rode her bike to the nearby Safeway where she found Hall with another woman.
The suit claims that S.S. believed Hall had been cheating on her, so she “summoned up the courage to confront him.” During this interaction, the suit says, she demanded he return several items of her property and, after he said they had never been dating so he wasn’t actually cheating on her, she slapped him and left on her bike, sobbing. The suit adds that the slap did not cause Hall injury or even leave a mark, with video showing him telling officers that it only stung.
The incident drew interest from nearby residents resulting in someone calling the LPD. Officers Dunlap and Wood — the suit claims Dunlap was field-training Wood at the time — responded to the scene where they located and interviewed Hall. After asking if Hall wanted to press charges, telling him he would need to fill out some information in a packet, Hall said he would rather “just pass.”
The suit claims that despite Hall’s decision to not press charges, Dunlap decided to use the slap “as a chance for Officer Wood to get more experience practicing a domestic violence arrest.”
After grabbing witness statements from people in the area, including a statement from Hall where he said the incident did not cause him physical pain, the officers attempted to call S.S. and Siers to no success.
While four officers responded to the Siers home and waited 20 minutes, they were unable to come in contact with S.S. or her father. When Siers returned home from work that day, he saw several missed calls from the LPD and called them back, telling them he and his daughter were at their home; this led to the three officers named in the suit responding to the residence.
When the officers arrived, the suit says, Siers was found in front of the house working on S.S.’s bike. His two dogs — Montana, a chihuahua, and Skippy, a Jack Russell terrier — were on long leashes outside the house. The officers asked him to call his daughter outside, saying they just wanted to talk to her.
After S.S. came out and began talking with the officers, she eventually admitted to slapping Hall earlier that day — the video accompanying the suit claims their body-worn cameras were muted for much of this discussion. The suit claims that once S.S. admitted to the slap, Wood, without warning, put his hands on her to begin an arrest by starting to put handcuffs on her, stating she was under arrest for assault.
The suit adds that, per LPD policy on handcuffing, people 14 or younger should not be restrained unless they are “suspected of a dangerous felony.”
When the arrest begins, Siers can be seen in the video yelling at Sychla and the other officers that they can’t arrest his daughter; all the while the family’s two dogs can be heard barking continuously in the background.
The suit claims that at this time Siers noticed that his dogs were trying to protect him and his daughter and wanted to safely get them inside.
When Siers tries to move around Sychla in the video — an action he says was to deal with the dogs — Sychla can be seen pushing Siers back. The suit claims Sychla also attempted to conduct a hold maneuver to stop Siers, an attempt that was unsuccessful. Following this, the suit claims that Sychla shoved Siers backward several times, with Siers eventually scrambling away into a parking space in front of the residence.
While in the parking space, Sychla pulled out a stun gun and, after Siers began to walk toward him, fired it, hitting Siers in the stomach and causing him to collapse. Skippy can be seen in the video trying to pull its way over to him.
“I was getting my dog,” Siers can be heard screaming in the video. Siers then can be seen complying with Sychla as he handcuffs him, but asks him to put the dogs away, stating he doesn’t want the officers to shoot them.
“We’re not (going to) shoot your dog; knock it off,” Sychla can be heard saying.
During this, the suit claims, S.S. began screaming while suffering from a panic attack. While S.S. tried to pull away from Wood and Dunlap, the suit claims, the officers “violently assaulted her” as they tried to get her in handcuffs, including slamming her body and limbs onto the concrete and against the brick wall while pushing their bodies against her back. The suit claims that during this, S.S. hit her head more than once, ultimately causing a concussion.
Following multiple pleas from Siers to put the dogs inside, Sychla can be seen approaching Skippy and picking him up by the leash and carrying him toward the door, dangling several feet above the ground by his neck. While both Siers and S.S. can be heard screaming to “not choke my dog,” Sychla responds by saying he is a K-9 officer. Sychla can be seen carrying Skippy to the door before pushing him inside and eventually kicking the dog back in when it tries to come out.
“No wonder why you guys get a bad rap,” Siers can be heard saying when Sychla returns to him on the ground.
The suit claims that S.S. was arrested and charged with harassment, domestic violence, obstruction and resisting arrest while Siers was charged with obstructing a police officer and resisting arrest; the suit adds both sets of charges were eventually dismissed.
According to the suit, the event caused emotional and physical trauma to not only Siers and S.S. but also Skippy. For Siers and his daughter, they have both lost and continue to lose sleep while not feeling safe in their home, with S.S. suffering panic attacks and insomnia the suit says. The event also allegedly changed Skippy’s entire demeanor; he became extremely aggressive with every stranger to come near the Siers home and eventually had to be rehomed to family out of state.
Following the footage of the arrest the video stated that the event was reviewed by LPD chain of command and deemed “reasonable and justified.”
The video ends by pointing some blame at the elected officials in Loveland who have supported the LPD and its officers, including clips of previous and unrelated statements from Mayor Pro Tem Don Overcash and councilors Pat McFall and John Fogle. It also includes a post from Overcash in February of 2021 congratulating two of the three officers involved in the incident for receiving awards from the department for actions in 2020, with Dunlap and Wood each receiving an Exemplary Action Ribbon for an undescribed reason.
The video also encourages viewers to contact the city of Loveland and “let them know your thoughts on their amazing police department!”
“The theme across all these assaults … is that this is a police department that has no concept of what community safety actually means and entails,” Schielke told the Reporter-Herald. “Watching what they do to this family on this video has to be unsettling and terrifying for any parent in this town because there is no common sense utilized and there is no interest in the damage being inflicted to, here, a juvenile.”
Schielke said this incident along with others in the past show that there is a theme of issues within department leadership. She said that without someone standing up to call out the “pattern of violent conduct and complete disrespect for this community,” nothing is going to change.
“I bet at this point Loveland wishes each of these events could involve the same officers,” she said. “But the fact that it doesn’t tells the whole story. This is not a bad apples event, it is the whole tree.”
She added that while she had tried to let Loveland settle the matter without taking it public, the city had declined.
Following Schielke’s early Wednesday release, the city published its own response to the event, stating that it will have Jensen Hughes conduct an independent investigation of the incident.
The release by Loveland corroborated Schielke’s claims, stating that more than a month ago “an attorney representing the family involved” made a request to settle the claims with a four-day time frame to pay for damages, which the city declined.
“The incidents were initially reviewed and deemed appropriate at the time of the event, but the city is taking a second outside look at the incident in our efforts to ensure we are policing in a respectful and proper manner,” City Manager Steve Adams said in the release. “As we move forward on our accountability efforts launched in 2021, best practices in law enforcement will be maintained and we are committed to accountability if those standards are not upheld.”
The release added the findings from this review will be made public when the investigation is completed.
“I appreciate the difficult, challenging, and often dangerous roles that LPD officers undertake to keep our community safe, and I want to express my gratitude to the men and women of LPD for taking on this important work and for continuing in our larger efforts to improve community policing to best serve our community,” Adams said in the release.
This is not the first time the department has faced an excessive use of force lawsuit for actions of its officers. Most notably the department became the center of international attention when Schielke released information on the June 2020 arrest of Karen Garner, a case that resulted in a $3 million settlement from the city of Loveland and a five-year prison sentence for Garner’s arresting officer. The department also faced an excessive use of force suit for the 2019 arrest of Preston Sowl, which was settled by the city for $290,000.
Both the Garner and Sowl cases were brought to light through Schielke and the Life and Liberty Law Office.
Beyond excessive use of force incidents, the department has faced scrutiny for several other incidents, including the shooting and killing of a 19-year-old boy in 2021 and a dog in 2019, as well as criticism over alleged wrongful DUI arrests.
The city hired Jensen Hughes in 2021 to lead an independent investigation into the department’s policies and procedures following the release of information about Garner’s arrest. The investigation offered a positive review on many of the department’s policies and practices along with critiques on how to improve in the areas in which it was lacking.
Source: Read Full Article