A man in Ft. Collins, Colorado, is filing a lawsuit against his local police department for an incident in which he alleges police officers physically assaulted him without a valid reason. The encounter, which has been captured in bodycam footage that has circulated on social media, occurred two years ago.
The footage shows a conversation between police officers and Andru Kulas, who was suspected of trespassing on private property. But the situation escalated after the Kulas refused to accept the citation the officer tried to issue him:
A Fort Collins man is suing the police department after he was taken to the ground and pepper sprayed in the face two years ago after refusing to take a ticket for trespassing.
Attorney Sarah Schielke filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Andru Kulas related to the incident that occurred in the early morning hours of Aug. 29, 2021. The lawsuit names the City of Fort Collins as well as two individual officers, Kevin Park and Avery Hanzlicek.
According to the lawsuit, Kulas had suddenly lost his father and was out drinking with friends on the evening of Aug. 28, 2021. Just before 2 a.m. on Aug. 29, 2021, officers with Fort Collins Police Services contacted Kulas near the intersection of College and Mountain Avenues in Old Town Fort Collins in response to a call related to trespassing. He and another man were accused of going onto the rooftop of Brothers Bar and Grill where “no trespassing” signs were posted, the lawsuit says. Neither was still on the roof when police arrived.
Schielke also released body worn camera footage of Kulas’ arrest. It shows Kulas approaching officers who are writing him a ticket and making multiple derogatory comments to them.
In the video, Kulas explains to the officers that an unknown man in the bar they were drinking at shoved his girlfriend to the ground. He and his friends went outside to look for the individual. After they could not see him, they ran up to the roof of the bar to get a better vantage point. After a few minutes, they climbed back down the stairs after they were unable to locate the individual.
Moments later, the bouncer at the bar called the police on the two men for going up to the rooftop. When the officers arrived, the bouncer led them to Kulas and his friends and pointed them out, which is when the conversation began.
The lawsuit notes that the officers “ignored” Kulas’ comments about his girlfriend being allegedly assaulted by another individual, which prompted the young man to criticize them. The officer proceeded to write a citation summoning Kulas to court, according to the footage. Kulas refused to take the citation when the officer tried to give it to him. The lawsuit points out that he was within his rights to refuse to accept the document.
“[Officer] Park, demonstrating that he knew that Mr. Kulas had the right to decline accepting the physical summons, told Mr. Kulas that if he didn’t have the summons, he wouldn’t know his court date, and then when he missed his court date, a warrant would issue for his arrest,” the lawsuit read.
The officer then tried to push the document into Kulas’ hand, who then pushed away the officers hand. Park then grabbed Kulas’ jacket and threw him to the ground where he and his partner detained him. At this point, Park fire his pepper spray directly into Kulas face from only two inches away. Kulas was later arrested and put behind bars for 36 hours for obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest. The prosecution later dropped each of these charges.
However, the damage was done, according to the lawsuit. Kulas sustained serious damage to his eyes and said he was “functionally blind” for days. Two years later, he still has problems with his vision.
The Fort Collins Police Department conducted a review of the officers’ actions and found that the officers engaged in no wrongdoing:
The Citizens Review Board is a committee comprised of various community members, appointed by the city council, who render findings and make recommendations concerning officers’ actions related to police policies and procedures. After review, the CRB subcommittee unanimously agreed that the officer should be exonerated of allegations of unnecessary force. The City of Fort Collins and Fort Collins Police Services will contest the lawsuit’s allegations.
From where I sit the officer’s actions were egregious for a number of reasons.
For starters, there was absolutely no reason to use force against Kulas – especially not pepper spray. The civilian was not violent, nor was he threatening the officers. Yes, he was certainly criticizing their actions, but this is not illegal. He was engaging in constitutionally-protected speech which means the officers had no business trying to arrest him.
Secondly, the law does not require an individual to accept or sign a citation given to them by a peace officer. Members of law enforcement cannot compel a civilian to receive this type of documentation – which the officer on the scene acknowledged. Kulas could have easily found out about the court date at a later time and the officer could have gone on his merry way without having to escalate the encounter.
This issue is larger than this story. The disturbing reality is that, like these officers, other members of law enforcement tend to get away with engaging in this type of behavior, rarely facing criminal charges. Could you imagine what would happen to one of us if we pepper-sprayed someone for no valid reason? Yet, if we happen to wear a badge and uniform, the behavior becomes acceptable to our justice system.
Even though the officer will not face criminal charges, hopefully the civil lawsuit will give Kulas a way to make the officer face some level of accountability. If police know they can behave however they want with little to no consequences, what is to keep them from abusing their authority and violating our rights?