ARVADA, Colo. — Three police officers and the City of Arvada have been named in a federal lawsuit alleging excessive use of force, where an officer repeatedly punched a man in the face during an arrest.
“An Arvada Police Department officer beat the holy hell out of Travis Cook for absolutely no reason,” attorney Adam Frank told Denver7.
Frank filed a civil complaint in Federal District Court on Monday on behalf of Travis Cook, with claims that Cook’s Fourth Amendment civil rights were violated when he was arrested on February 11, 2018.
Arvada Police were called during a loud argument between Cook and his girlfriend while the two were in the basement of her parent’s home. Officers spoke with Cook, and ultimately decided to arrest him.
“Mr. Cook was sitting in a chair, was told he was going to be arrested, and then gets punched in the face,” Frank explained.
According to the complaint and Frank, Cook was given contradictory instructions on whether or not to sit or stand, and then officers used “hands on” techniques to arrest him. During that arrest, one of the officers claimed that Cook elbowed him in the face.
Arvada Police officers do not wear body cameras, so there is no video of the actual arrest. Cook’s mother took a cell phone video showing the aftermath.
“Why were you punching my son in the face?” she asked in that video. “He elbowed me in my chin,” Officer Valdez said, backing his mother away from her son, as Cook was being placed in handcuffs.
Cook was found not guilty of any crime involving his girlfriend, which was the original reason police were called. He was charged with second- and third-degree assault for striking an officer, along with resisting arrest and obstruction of a peace officer. A jury found him not guilty of any assault and not guilty of resisting arrest. He was found guilty of obstruction of a peace officer, likely for struggling once he was placed in handcuffs, as shown in the end of his mother’s video as he shows her his bloody face.
Arvada Police responded to the incident and the lawsuit with the following statement:
"Today we learned a lawsuit alleging excessive force was filed by attorneys for Travis Cook in the United States District Court. The lawsuit alleges three Arvada Police Officers used excessive force while effecting Mr. Cook’s arrest following a domestic violence investigation in 2018. Mr. Cook, who at the time of his arrest was 6’2” and 245lbs, was involved in a physical altercation with his girlfriend prior to officers’ arrival on the scene.
"Following their investigation, officers determined there was probable cause to arrest Mr. Cook for Felony Assault. State law mandates arrest in this situation. As detailed in the Police Report (No. 18-2233), Mr. Cook resisted officers when they attempted to place him under arrest, so officers were required to use force to protect the alleged victim and to take Mr. Cook into custody. Mr. Cook was eventually tried on charges related to this incident and was convicted of Obstruction of a Peace Officer. Mr. Cook’s actions also resulted in a violation of his probation in an earlier vehicular assault case."
The legal complaint names the City of Arvada as a defendant, claiming “the actual customer, policies, and practice of the City of Arvada converting the use of force was a proximate cause of substantial harm to Mr. Cook and a moving force behind the violation of Mr. Cook’s constitutional rights.”
It also alleges that Officer Valdez had a history of excessive force, counting “21 prior incidents of potential excessive force” in the seven years leading up to the Cook incident. The Department found that none of those were actually excessive. Valdez was also involved in an incident where he shot an “armed and dangerous” man who ultimately died by suicide just a month before the Cook arrest.
Arvada Police's statement did not address the officer’s past, instead only referencing the Cook case.
“If Arvada claims that what defendant Valdez did was justified, that should make everyone seriously question Arvada’s internal review process. Under no circumstances is what he did justified ,” attorney Adam Frank said.