AURORA, Colo. – A 23-year-old woman filed an excessive force lawsuit Monday against three Aurora officers.
OyZhana Williams alleges Aurora Police Sergeant Michal Hawkins, and officers Jordan Odneal and Jose Ortiz physically assaulted her and made up a false charge against her during a 2015 arrest.
The civil rights lawsuit, filed by Williams’ attorneys in federal court, alleges the Aurora officers choked her and slammed her against the pavement during a scuffle outside the emergency room at the University of Colorado Hospital. The suit also alleges that the plaintiff was wrongfully detained for several days following the arrest.
A hospital surveillance camera captured the arrest, and the video was released Tuesday by Williams’s attorney, Adam Frank. The Aurora Police Department said it was not aware of the excessive force complaint until the lawsuit was filed.
According to the lawsuit, the incident began after Williams’ boyfriend, Blake Newton, was shot in the early morning hours of Dec. 22, 2015. Williams took Newton in her car to the hospital’s ER, where she was met by the Aurora officers named in the suit.
The officers, tasked with investigating the shooting, told Williams that her car would be towed so it could be searched and examined, the lawsuit says. Williams was initially cooperative with the investigation until Sgt. Hawkins demanded Williams “give him the keys to the car,” which police had no legal claim to seize, the suit alleges. While the vehicle the shooting victim was transported in might be considered a secondary crime scene, which police had the right to seize, the keys were not considered evidence, the lawsuit contends.
According to the lawsuit, Sgt. Hawkins was “aggressive during this conversation, pointing his finger in Ms. Williams’ face.” At that point, Williams, “under duress from Sgt. Hawkins’ threats,” dropped the keys, which prompted the Aurora sergeant to grab and throw Williams out of the back of the police car where she was sitting.
The lawsuit also alleges during the ensuing scuffle, “Hawkins put his forearm on Ms. Williams’ throat and forced her to bend backwards over the trunk of the car while he choked her with his forearm.” The suit continues, alleging Williams was “stomped on” while she was laying on the pavement.
Williams was arrested and charged with assaulting a peace officer. However, the suit alleges the officers involved in the arrest deliberately misled prosecutors by including false information in the probable cause affidavit. As a result, Williams was locked up for several days, including over the Christmas holiday, which caused her to lose her job, the suit says. The assault charges were eventually dropped, but it's not clear why.
Williams’ attorneys are seeking unspecified damages for the alleged assault, the “malicious” arrest and the subsequent prosecution of “unwarranted charges.” The lawsuit claims the incident left Williams with serious pain and lasting injury, including migraine headaches for several months.
Aurora Police said they are taking the allegations seriously and investigating the incident. Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz placed Sgt. Hawkins on desk duty while the two officers named in the suit remain on patrol.
The Aurora Police Department posted the following statement on its Facebook account Tuesday evening after it had learned of the lawsuit:
It's not clear if any criminal charges were filed in the shooting case.