CHAFFEE COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — A Chaffee County man is suing several Colorado law enforcement agencies and officers after being involved in a “SWAT-style” traffic stop last year. Body camera video, released by the victim’s attorneys, shows officers immediately deploying a flash-bang in what the victim calls extreme excessive force.
Ellis Athanas, the victim in the case, is 30 years old and claims he was driving home from the gym in September when he was ambushed by a special tactical team in Chaffee County. His attorney says a flash-bang was used without warning and deployed near his client’s head for a misdemeanor charge that’s since been dropped.
Police video shows members of the Chaffee County Combined Tactical Team pour out of the vehicle with weapons drawn and swarm a white pickup truck. Officers are yelling on megaphones, “Put your hands on your face.” Within seconds, a loud bang is heard as a percussion grenade is deployed.
Officers clear the vehicle and put Athanas in handcuffs. The 30-year-old appears confused and can be heard asking, “What is going on?”
Kevin Mehr, the attorney representing Athanas, said his client was disoriented, nauseated and passed out from the impact of the flash-bang. He added that Athanas was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with a concussion.
“Ellis is lucky he’s alive,” Mehr said. “A percussion grenade is a very serious weapon.”
‘Just boom, a big explosion’ during arrest
Athanas has now filed a lawsuit against the Buena Vista and Salida police departments, Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office and more than a dozen officers. Those combined forces make up members of the Chaffee County Combined Tactical Team. The suit states that the “defendants collectively decided to conduct a ‘vehicle takedown’ by show of brute force and the military might of the CCCTT.”
“He had his hands out the window and they don’t give him any commands, don’t say get out of the car, just boom, a big explosion,” Mehr said.
The suit also claims SWAT is expected to complete a deployment worksheet to ensure it’s a high-risk response and claim 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. Mr. Athanas had no previous criminal history in Colorado before the law enforcement contacts described herein, and a review of his out-of-state history shows no convictions for anything other than marijuana possession. Officer Cortese claims, on body camera footage, that Mr. Athanas has ‘got a (expletive) history’ and ‘has kidnapping and different things’ on his record. However, Mr. Athanas has never been convicted of any such crime.”
The suit claims that days before the incident, Athanas called police during a domestic incident with his ex-wife. It states that he was hit on the head multiple times with a frying pan and had a knot on his head, yet Athanas was taken into custody for false reporting.
Misdemeanor charges dropped
As far as the incident in question, the complaint states officers were conducting an arrest warrant for child abuse after the 30-year-old’s ex-wife made claims that Athanas grabbed their child too tight four weeks prior. According to the suit, both misdemeanor charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence.
Mehr said he’s never seen a flash-bang deployed before, especially with a misdemeanor count.
“It’s just bizarre, it’s just very bizarre for any Class 2 misdemeanor. Not even Class 1, the most serious misdemeanor, that they would use the SWAT team,” Mehr said. “That’s an incredible use of force, show of authority and also expenditure of resources.”
The suit claims that the use of force demonstrated was wildly aggressive due to Athanas voluntarily stopping on the road, he did not attempt to flee and complied, the warrant was for a misdemeanor offense, he had no criminal history, and he was arrested without force days before and charged with false reporting.
FOX31 did reach out to the law enforcement agencies listed in the complaint and heard back from Buena Vista, which declined to comment due to the ongoing litigation. On Wednesday, a Chaffee County spokesperson said, “In keeping with our general policy, we do not comment on potential or pending litigation.”