On February 19th, 2016, a man named Darsean Kelley was walking with his cousin, Izear Brown, down a dimly lit street in Aurora, Colorado. They were minding their own business. Unbeknownst to Kelley and his companion, there had been a gun pulled on a six-year old child earlier that night. Police officers, in search of a suspect, stopped the two men, demanding that they put their arms in the air and take a seat on the curb. Kelley raised his arms and told the officer he had pulled his groin and therefore could not sit. Nonetheless, the policeman continued to bark orders, while Kelley, conscious of his rights, persistently requested an explanation for the officers’ demand.
As Kelley continued to inform the officers that he knew his rights, a taser was fired straight into his back, causing him to plummet to the ground and smack his head on the sidewalk. As Kelley reeled in pain, he asked to see the officers’ supervisor and pointed out the presence of various witnesses. In what now appears as an ironic gesture, one of the officers pointed to his body-cam and said, “Hey, look right here. It’s all on video, sweetheart.
Kelley was arrested for “disorderly conduct.” He was released three days later, and after the ACLU intervened, the charges were dropped. A police review board maintained that excessive force had not been used by officers on the scene and that “the force applied in this incident was within policy.”
In the end, the body-cam video provided the grounds for a settlement reached on July, 12th, of this year. For his injuries, Kelley received $110,000 from the City of Aurora. The ACLU successfully defended Kelley’s claims, appealing to the Fourth Amendment protections against excessive force by police officers and arguing that Kelley was illegally detained. The ACLU outlined its argument in a letter sent on May 15th to Mike Hyman, attorney for the City of Aurora.
Business as Usual?
The ACLU expressed a deep concern with Aurora policing practices. “That the Aurora Police Department reviewed this incident and gave it a departmental stamp of approval shows the Department is incapable of policing itself,” said attorney Rebecca T. Wallace in a press release on the ACLU’s wesbite. “If what happened to Darsean Kelley is business as usual for the Aurora Police Department – as their own review board found – then Aurora taxpayers can expect to continue to foot the bill while black and brown men suffer at the hands of police.”
Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU in Colorado, went a step further, demanding real change in the Aurora Police Department. Aurora Police have no strict guidance on the proper use of tasers, Silverstein noted. He continued, “the Department desperately needs truly independent citizen oversight to hold the police accountable for wrongdoing.”
According to Hyman, the ACLU’s attacks on the police department were unwarranted. Referring to Wallace’s comment about taxpayers “footing the bill,” Hyman noted that the case was indeed “settled for the reason that many cases are settled – to avoid the cost of prolonged litigation. That cost would have far exceeded the value of the settlement.”
According to the ACLU’s claims, Kelley was injured in a few different ways. First, he was physically hurt by a needlessly discharged taser, which sent him to the ground and caused him to hit his head. Then, trauma begat trauma, as Kelley was illegally detained in a cell for three days. And to make matters worse, the young man “developed a deep and lasting fear of the police,” a wound that may never heal in his lifetime.
As for the larger social violence captured by this incident? It is difficult to see this incident as anything other than a case of police brutality against a person who was simply “walking while black.”