Thu. Mar 30th, 2023


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Chaffee County man sues after police use “flash-bang” near his head

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A Chaffee County man is suing multiple Colorado law enforcement agencies over excessive force after members of a specialized police team used a “flash-bang” device near his head during the man’s arrest in September, giving him a concussion.

Ellis Athanas, 30, was arrested on a days-old misdemeanor warrant by the Chaffee County Combined Tactical Team in a SWAT-style traffic stop on Sept. 8, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in Chaffee County District Court.

Although Athanas had very limited criminal history — one prior conviction for marijuana possession and one pending criminal charge of false reporting — officers decided he was a “high risk,” according to the lawsuit. The open warrant was for misdemeanor charges of child abuse and menacing, which were later dismissed for lack of evidence.

The tactical team tracked Athanas when he went to a gym on Sept. 8, then followed him as he drove home before conducting a “military-style” traffic stop, the lawsuit alleges. Police body camera footage shows several officers in full tactical gear rush out of the back of a police truck with their guns drawn, shouting and using a megaphone to tell Athanas to “put his hands on his face.”

Athanas put his hands out the window, but an officer without warning detonated a flash-and-sound diversionary device — colloquially known as a “flash-bang” — just outside the driver’s side window, the video shows. Four seconds elapsed from the time officers told Athanas to put his hands on his face to the detonation, the footage shows.

Athanas was then arrested, but later became nauseous, developed a severe headache and collapsed on the way to jail, according to the lawsuit. He was diagnosed with a concussion.

“This case is an alarming display of the militarization of the police in our country and a concerning lack of training on both dangerous weapon use by the police as well as the constitutional rights of the citizens they encounter,” said Kevin Mehr, Athanas’ attorney.

The charges that led to Athanas’ arrest were dropped after a judge found insufficient evidence supporting the allegations, according to the lawsuit. The prior pending charge of false reporting was also dismissed, according to the complaint. Both cases have since been sealed and are not available for public review.

Mehr alleges in the lawsuit that a Chaffee County sheriff’s sergeant wrongly claimed that Athanas had a “pretty bad criminal history… like, kidnapping and different things,” to justify the high-risk traffic stop, and that the sergeant also boasted about “rolling the SWAT team on his (expletive).”

Mehr also noted that Athanas was arrested without incident on the false reporting charge on Sept. 3 — days before the SWAT traffic stop.

“Defendants allegedly completed a SWAT deployment worksheet, and claim that the score met the threshold for such action. However, discovery provided only shows an incomplete worksheet that does not appear to accurately reflect Mr. Athanas’ actual criminal history,” the lawsuit reads.

The task force is made up of officers from the Buena Vista Police Department, Salida Police Department and the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office, the lawsuit says. The flash-bang was used by a sheriff’s deputy, the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit names those three law enforcement agencies as defendants, as well as 14 individual officers.

Chaffee County Undersheriff Andy Rohrich and a representative for the Salida Police Department did not immediately return requests for comment Monday. A spokeswoman for Buena Vista police department declined to comment.

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