DENVER - A man, who electronically recorded a Denver Police officer repeatedly punching a drug suspect in the face, is suing the department, alleging that officers confiscated his tablet without his consent and without a warrant.
Levi Frasier says he was in the vicinity of West Fifth Avenue and Federal Boulevard on August 14, 2014, when he noticed two men pulling a young man out of a car.
He stopped, grabbed his tablet and started recording.
The video shows officers restraining the suspect, who was already on the ground.
Frasier said police were trying to get the suspect to give up the plastic bag he’d put in his mouth.
“You could tell the officer was yelling for him to spit out the drugs and became enraged because (the suspect) wasn’t complying,” Frasier said. “It just seemed like he was letting the rage flow through his fist.”
The video also shows an officer reaching out and grabbing one of the legs of the suspect’s pregnant girlfriend, as she approached officers. You can hear screaming on the video. The pregnant woman fell to the ground.
“I just thought that was wrong,” Frasier said.
Frasier told 7NEWS that one of the officers noticed he had a tablet in his hands and yelled, “Camera!”
He said a short time later, an officer asked for the video.
“I told him I took a picture,” he said. “He told me I needed to give a witness statement.”
Frasier said he didn’t want to give the video to police, so he told them he’d been shooting on a cell phone. Police didn’t buy it.
HALO cam video, obtained by Frasier’s attorney, shows several officers surrounding the witness. He said he felt intimidated and coerced.
When they asked if he was going to give them the video, Frasier replied, “No, not without a warrant.”
He said that’s when one of the officers took his tablet. He said the officer had it for about four minutes and when he returned it, the video was gone.
When asked if he thinks officers erased it, Frasier replied, “I know it was on there earlier and I know it wasn’t on there when it was given back to me.”
Frasier said when he synced the tablet later, the video reappeared.
"Police are not permitted to search through property unless they have reason to believe that it has been used in a crime, or that you have committed a crime, and there’s something in the property that they’re allowed to search, said Elizabeth Wang, Frasier’s attorney.
Wang told 7NEWS that police should have left Frasier alone.
“He was perfectly entitled, under the law, to video record them as long as he was not interfering with them,” she said.
According to the lawsuit, filed Friday in Federal Court, Officer [Christopher] Evans took Frasier’s tablet without consent, without a warrant, without probable cause and without any legal justification whatsoever.”
The lawsuit says police violated Frasier's First Amendment right to "record the police performing their official duties in public. The First Amendment protects the right to gather, receive, record, and disseminate information on matters of public importance relating to civil liberties and civil rights, including the official actions of police officers in public."
The officers’ actions also violated Frasier’s "right to be free from illegal searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment," the lawsuit states.
The suit says that leading City and County of Denver officials encourage this illegal and unconstitutional conduct by police. As evidence, the lawsuit notes that shortly after the public release of Mr. Frasier's video documenting that Officer [Charles] Jones lied in his report, the department promoted him.
In response to a request for comment about the lawsuit, the Denver Police Department issued the following statement on Friday:
"The Denver Police Department respects individual’s rights to record officers conducting law enforcement business. The Denver Police Department completed an internal investigation into Levi Frasier’s claims regarding the conduct of Denver Police officers. The findings are currently being reviewed by the Office of the Independent Monitor. The Denver Police Department encourages the public to reserve judgment until the facts are publicly available."