The town of Timnath has reached a $250,000 settlement with John Vazquez, the former Windsor mayor who accused a Timnath police officer of unlawfully arresting him and using excessive force as another officer ignored his pleas for help.
Timnath’s town council is set to vote on ratifying the settlement agreement Tuesday night. The town’s insurance carrier, Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, agreed to pay the settlement, which means the money won’t come from Timnath’s budget. The town’s insurance payments might increase in light of the situation, staff wrote in a memo to council.
Vazquez’s lawsuit springs from his October 2017 arrest, which led to charges of assaulting a peace officer and resisting arrest. A judge later threw out the resisting arrest charge, and a jury found him not guilty of other charges that included assaulting a peace officer.
Vazquez was mayor of Windsor from 2008 to 2016.
The two police officers named in the lawsuit denied excessive use of force and unlawful arrest, according to court documents.
Video footage of Vazquez’s arrest isn’t available because Timnath police didn’t have body cameras at the time. The town purchased body cameras for all police officers earlier this year and is developing policies and guidelines to integrate them into their standard operating procedures, town attorney Robert Rogers wrote in an email to the Coloradoan.
Timnath began an internal investigation in September 2018 of Officer Forrest Andersen, the officer accused of excessive force. They placed him on administrative leave pending the investigation results, which is department protocol, but Andersen resigned in October 2018.
“As he was no longer an employee, the investigation was not concluded,” Rogers wrote. “Accordingly, there is not a final report available.”
Andrew Tope, the other officer named in the case, remains a full-time police department employee and has the town’s full support, Rogers added.
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Court and police records show conflicting accounts of Oct. 7, 2017, the night of Vazquez’s arrest.
Tope stopped Vazquez for a welfare check on East Harmony Road shortly before 10 p.m., after Vazquez “stumbled into the road” and Tope nearly hit him with his patrol car, according to Tope’s account of the arrest. Vazquez was about three miles into the 11-plus-mile walk from East Moon Asian Bistro, where he’d eaten dinner with his wife, to his home in Windsor. He later told police his wife had left him at the restaurant after an argument, and he testified in court that he’d been drinking for hours when Tope stopped him for the welfare check.
When Andersen arrived at the scene to assist, he found Vazquez “yelling at Tope and waving his hands in the air,” according to Andersen’s account in court documents. Vazquez had earlier walked by Andersen’s patrol car and asked him for a ride home, which Andersen declined.
By Vazquez’s account, Andersen “jumped out of his car and took over the encounter” upon arrival. Vazquez said Andersen began interrogating and antagonizing him, and the former mayor recalled tellingK Andersen he felt harassed and that he was being rude and abusing his authority.
Vazquez said Andersen unexpectedly grabbed his arm, twisted it behind his back in a painful wristlock maneuver and told him he was going to jail, according to his complaint.
The officers walked a handcuffed Vazquez to the patrol cars, where Andersen “slammed Mr. Vazquez’s upper body down over the hood of (Tope’s) patrol car,” according to Vazquez’s complaint.
“Mr. Vazquez exclaimed: ‘That’s going to look good for the cameras!’ ” the complaint continued.
“Defendant Andersen pulled back on Mr. Vazquez’s handcuffed arms and slammed him down onto the car again, and replied: ‘We don’t have cameras in Timnath.’ ”
Vazquez alleged in his complaint that his head hit the hood of the patrol car as Andersen slammed him against it and forcibly separated his handcuffed arms away from his body, as if Andersen “was trying to dislocate his shoulders from his body.”
“It was a level of pain that Mr. Vazquez will never forget,” his complaint read. He said Tope pretended not to notice his cries for help.
Andersen described the encounter differently in his incident report. Andersen said Vazquez was loudly berating and talking over him and kept raising his hands above his shoulders. He said he handcuffed Vazquez because he feared the man was going to strike him.
“I walked Vazquez over to our vehicles and conducted a search for weapons,” Andersen wrote. “While searching Vazquez he attempted to turn around and face me. Not knowing what Vazquez was attempting to do I placed Vazquez’s upper torso on the hood of the car. Once on the hood of the car Vazquez made a quick turn in my direction and hit me on the right side of my face with his right elbow. I advised Officer Tope that Vazquez had just hit me in the face.”
Andersen said he used one hand to place Vazquez’s upper torso on the hood of the car and didn’t slam his body or head onto the hood of the car. He said he arrested Vazquez for assault of a peace officer after Vazquez hit him.
He said Vazquez berated him, threatened to sue him and told him he was going to “a special place in hell” as he drove Vazquez to the Larimer County Jail, where he was booked as an uncooperative inmate. Vazquez stayed in jail for three days and didn’t request medical attention, according to court documents. Andersen’s defense added that Vazquez’s booking video shows he was wearing thin, wire-frame glasses that weren’t broken or damaged, which is “wholly inconsistent with (Vazquez’s) claim that Andersen repeatedly slammed his head on the hood of Tope’s patrol car.”
Vazquez testified at his deposition that he didn’t go to the doctor until after he filed the lawsuit, which was over a year after his arrest, according to Andersen and Tope’s defense.
Sarah Schielke, Vazquez’s attorney, told the Coloradoan that Vazquez didn’t expect anyone at the jail would be able to help him with torn tendons or a dislocated shoulder, both injuries he’d experienced before.
In a statement shared with the Coloradoan, Schielke added that Vazquez’s case was about “standing up to bullies” and underlined the changes that have taken place at the Timnath Police Department since Vazquez’s lawsuit.
“None of this would have happened if Timnath Police had body cameras,” Schielke wrote. “Now they do. None of this would have happened if bad cops like Andersen were kept off of the police force. Now he’s gone. Mr. Vazquez told Andersen that fateful night that he was going to sue him for his lies and for his abuse of power. He was a man of his word. He did. The size of this settlement truly speaks for itself.
“As a former mayor, few know better than Mr. Vazquez how important it is that citizens in any community be able to feel safe walking down the road, and that we all ought to be able to believe that no one — particularly law enforcement itself — is above the law,” Schielke continued. “His acting upon those core values is where this all began, and now, it is with true vindication of those values through this settlement, that it also properly ends.”
Andersen and Tope’s attorneys, Daniel A. Richards and Miko Brown, originally deferred to Timnath’s town council in response to a Coloradoan request for comment, but they shared an additional statement after publication.
“Our hope was that the settlement would bring a peaceful end to the public dispute regarding the incident, but we feel obligated to respond to Mr. Vazquez’s counsel’s recent false statements to the press,” Richards wrote. “It is clear that Mr. Vazquez is embarrassed by his behavior, including his assault of a police officer, on October 7, 2017, as he should be. However, defaming two experienced police officers who were just trying to do their jobs is not an acceptable way to save face.”
Richards noted the settlement allowed the defendants to avoid the substantial cost of a trial and is a fraction of the millions of dollars Vazquez sought in damages.
“The settlement agreement, which Mr. Vazquez agreed to, specifically states that Officers Andersen and Tope do not admit fault or liability,” the statement continued. “Indeed, both Officers firmly believe they acted appropriately and in the Town’s and its citizens’ best interests at all times.”
Vazquez’s lawsuit springs from his October 2017 arrest, which led to charges of assaulting a peace officer and resisting arrest. A judge later threw out the resisting arrest charge, and a jury found him not guilty of other charges.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with comment from attorneys for the two police officers, who originally deferred to town attorneys but later offered their own statement.
Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke.
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