A newly filed lawsuit claims that an officer with the Colorado Springs Police Department responded to a teen who said she’d been a previous victim of a sexual assault and was asking to call her mom during a panic attack by pepper-spraying her while she was handcuffed in the back of a squad car.
The defendants listed in the complaint, pressed by Denver-based Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP, on behalf of Amara Keens-Dumas, who was seventeen at the time of the incident, are three CSPD law-enforcement officers: Sergeant Gregory Wilhelmi, who can be seen on video pepper-spraying Keens-Dumas, as well as Ryan Yoshimiya and Brianna Ragsdale. However, attorney David Lane suggests that the culture of the department helped enable their actions.
“Colorado Springs is a frequent flyer in the world of civil-rights violations,” he contends. “They haven’t learned their lessons because no cop has been prosecuted, no cop has been fired, no cop has lost one penny out of one paycheck for all the brutality.”
After 2 a.m. on October 17, 2020, according to Lane, Keens-Dumas “had a verbal, not physical argument with her boyfriend. It was loud, and somebody called the police. The cops” — Ragsdale and Yoshimiya — “found her sitting on a median. She’d had a bad prior experience where the cops threw her down on the ground, and she was already having a massive reaction to the argument with her boyfriend when the cops came. But she wasn’t doing anything wrong. She just wouldn’t talk to them, wouldn’t cooperate.”
In response, Lane continues, “the cops cuffed her, and a male cop started patting her down, which she viewed as groping her. She’d had a prior history of being abused by a man, and that further triggered her.”
At that point, a passerby began capturing video of the exchange, and the videographer “was like, ‘Get her help. Get her EMS. She hasn’t done anything,'” Lane recounts.
The lawsuit’s narrative offers a summary of what happened next. Officer Ragsdale handcuffed Keens-Dumas and walked her toward the police car, where she and fellow officer Yoshimiya “forcefully put her onto the asphalt,” causing “painful cuts, scrapes and bruising on her arms, knees and legs,” before loading her into the vehicle. Keens-Dumas reacted by screaming, “I’m a rape victim, 2015…. Give me my phone. I’m a minor. Give me my mom.”
Shortly thereafter, Wilhelmi arrived on the scene and asked, “Has she been sprayed?”
“No, not yet,” Yoshimiya replied.
“Spray her,” Wilhelmi said, as Keens-Dumas continued to ask for her mother. Then, after Yoshimiya opened the squad car’s rear door, Wilhelmi twice dispensed pepper spray in her face. A moment later, the door was closed again, leaving Keens-Dumas inside. “She was essentially imprisoned in a gas chamber with no escape from the excruciatingly painful pepper spray,” the lawsuit states.
See a video assembled by Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP, below:
Lane stresses that Keens-Dumas was straightforward about her state of crisis: “She flat-out says she was having a panic attack.” The officers’ decision to handcuff and pepper-spray her anyway suggests to him that “until cops themselves are on the receiving end of systemic accountability, nothing will ever change.”
Senate Bill 217, passed during 2020 in the wake of the George Floyd protests, made it possible for law enforcement officers to be held personally liable for excessive force while on duty. Although no Colorado officer has yet had to pony up for such actions in civil court, Lane remains optimistic.
“It just takes a little while for these cases to get down the pipeline,” he says. “Last year, we filed the Britney Gilliam case under that law — that’s the one where the little girls were put on the ground at gunpoint over a supposedly stolen car. It’s working its way through the system, and this one will, too — and hopefully, some officers are going to feel the pain. And until cops themselves are on the receiving end of systemic accountability, nothing will ever change. As long as taxpayers have to pay millions of dollars to my clients and no cop has to change their behavior, this will continue.”
He acknowledges that “there are plenty of good police officers. But when you give any large group of people virtually unlimited power and a license to kill, there will always be a certain percentage of officers who abuse their power. And the best thing that has happened to fight back against that in Colorado lately is the mandate for body cameras, because they show these police officers being themselves.”
In Lane’s view, the Keens-Dumas footage should prompt viewers to ask themselves several questions: “Why have these officers not been fired? Why does the city council cluck their tongues and wring their hands but continually write check after check to victims of police abuse? Why does the chief of police in Colorado Springs tolerate this type of stuff? Why do the citizens of Colorado Springs put up with a police chief who puts up with this kind of stuff?”
In response to Westword‘s inquiry about the suit, Colorado Springs Police Department spokesperson Robert Tornabene offered this: “As this is a matter that has not been adjudicated, we are unable to provide a comment on pending litigation.”
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