DENVER – A consulting firm that the city of Loveland brought in to assess the Loveland Police Department last year amid several lawsuits filed over officers’ use of force in different cases is coming in to look at another case in which LPD officers are alleged to have used excessive force against a man, his teenage daughter, and their dog.
The city announced Tuesday it was again bringing in Jensen Hughes to review the latest incident, which happened on June 20, 2020, and involved a 14-year-old Loveland girl who was accused by police of domestic violence after she slapped her boyfriend, as well as the girl’s father, who was tased by an officer while trying to remove his dog from the scene.
The city’s statement that it was hiring the consulting firm came after attorney Sarah Schielke filed a lawsuit against the city over the ordeal involving the girl, her father and their dog. The city of Loveland said Schielke had requested a settlement with the city “more than a month ago” and had given the city a four-day window to pay the settlement lest she release body camera video from the incident.
“The city did not pay the demanded amount and the attorney subsequently released an edited version of the body-camera video to the public,” the city said in a news release.
Schielke indeed did release the video on YouTube, as well as the lawsuit she said was filed Wednesday in Larimer County District Court on behalf of Jon Siers and his daughter.
The lawsuit names three officers who were involved in the arrests of Siers and his daughter as defendants: Officers Matt Sychla, Jeremiah Wood and Evan Dunlap. It claims Sychla unreasonably and wrongfully arrested Siers and used excessive force against him and his dog, and also that Sychla committed malicious prosecution in arresting and forwarding charges against Siers to prosecutors.
The lawsuit also claims Wood and Dunlap unreasonably seized, committed a warrantless arrest against, and used excessive force against Siers’ daughter, who was not named in the complaint because she is a juvenile.
According to the lawsuit, the girl had confronted an 18-year-old she had been dating in the parking lot of a Safeway over him allegedly “cheating on her” with another girl or woman. He told her they were not in a relationship, according to the suit, and the girl got upset and slapped him.
The ordeal was enough for someone to call Loveland police to the scene, according to the lawsuit. Two officers – Dunlap and Wood – responded and spoke to the girl and young man, as well as other witnesses. Wood was in field training at the time, according to the lawsuit, which says that Dunlap decided to “use this child’s slap as a chance for Officer Wood to get more experience practicing a domestic violence arrest.”
The 18-year-old man declined twice to press charges against the girl and said the slap caused him no pain, according to the lawsuit. The girl left on her bike, at which time the officers started calling the numbers of the girl and her father, and eventually went to their house to try to find them after calling for backup officers.
When they discovered that neither Siers nor his daughter were home, they left. But Schielke states in the lawsuit several times the officers “were bored” and that Loveland police superiors had an unspoken practice of requiring officers to finish at least 10 citations each day in order to get promoted and onto the best shifts.
The Jensen Hughes report released earlier this year found officers were focusing more on arrest and citation numbers rather than quality policing, and that some officers needed a stronger emphasis on the “sanctity of all human life” when using force against people.
According to the lawsuit, when Siers got home after work he noticed all the missed calls and voicemails from officers who said they wanted to talk with his daughter. He called them back, and officers came back to his home while he was outside working on his daughter’s bike.
He called his daughter out of the house, and according to the lawsuit, Officer Wood started to arrest his daughter as soon as she admitted to slapping the 18-year-old, which the suit says went against LPD policy of not arresting children 14 and under unless they are believed to have committed a “dangerous felony.”
“I couldn't do anything. I was helpless watching my daughter getting manhandled by three other police officers. You know, it's just, it's horrifying, terrifying,” Siers said in an interview Wednesday.
Siers had his two dogs outside on leashes at the home, according to the suit. One of them, a Jack Russell terrier, started barking at the officers when they were trying to get the daughter into handcuffs. According to the lawsuit, Siers was aware an LPD officer had shot and killed a family’s dog in the past year (which Schielke also filed suit over) and wanted to take the dog inside so it was not shot if it bit one of the officers.
But instead of allowing that, Officer Sychla shoved Siers, according to the lawsuit. As Siers continued to try to get the dog, Sychla failed to put Siers into an arm hold and pushed him to the ground, then pushed him again, the suit says.
Eventually, Sychla deployed his Taser on Siers and continued to shock him “for over five seconds,” the lawsuit claims.
“I was mad. I was scared. I've never been in a situation quite like that before,” Siers said. “So, I didn't know quite how to react.”
Siers’s daughter tried to get to her dad, but officers continued to try to put her into handcuffs.
“This included slamming her body and limbs down into concrete multiples times,” the lawsuit says. “It also included these male adult officers forcibly pushing her entire body against brick wall and concrete, and for officer Wood, at times pushing the front of his own body hard up against her back.”
The suit says the girl suffered cuts, scrapes, bruises and a concussion during the ordeal. Officers Wood and Dunlap eventually got her into handcuffs and arrested her for investigation of charges of harassment, domestic violence, obstruction and resisting arrest.
The charges were dismissed by the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office.
Sychla handcuffed Siers, who was still pleading to have officers let him take his dog inside. The lawsuit claims the dog did eventually nip at some of the officers, and that Sychla eventually picked the dog up by his leach and held him into the air by his throat while taking him to the front door of the home and putting him inside.
The lawsuit says the girl, Siers and the dog have all suffered since the ordeal that day and that the dog has become “extremely aggressive with every stranger.”
Siers was also arrested for investigation of obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest, but the district attorney’s office also dismissed those charges.
The lawsuit claims Sychla arrested Siers without a warrant and used excessive force against him, and violated the Dog Protection Act when he allegedly choked the dog. The suit also claims Sychla falsified and exaggerated facts in the police report involving Siers. And it claims that Dunlap and Wood arrested the girl without a warrant and used excessive force.
In the suit, Schielke is asking for declaratory and injunctive relief, compensatory, punitive or exemplary damages, and attorney’s fees and costs.
“Let there be no mistake: Loveland is not a safe place for children. Loveland is not a safe place for grandparents. Loveland is not a safe place for pets. The biggest threat to the safety of the Loveland community is - and continues to be - the Loveland Police Department itself. They treat people like animals. They treat animals like trash. They hurt families and destroy lives,” Schielke said in a statement. She also represented Karen Garner and her family in that case, which led to a $3 million settlement last year.
Loveland City Manager Steve Adams said the city was also releasing its own video from the ordeal and that while the city initially reviewed and “deemed appropriate at the time” the actions of the officers, but was now taking “a second outside look at the incident in our efforts to ensure we are policing in a respectful and proper manner.”
“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 city said the findings of the latest review will be made public once it is complete.
“Really it's a testament to how bad things are at Loveland is that they know they're being recorded, and they don't change their behavior, because they just don't care,” Schielke said in an interview.
Schielke also said she wanted to ensure the officers who were involved were held accountable and “forced to change.”
“And that starts with getting rid of every supervisor at LPD who approved of the violence in this video,” she said.