Federal lawsuit alleges pattern of excessive force within Fort Collins police

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FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The city of Fort Collins is facing a new federal lawsuit alleging a pattern of excessive force at the police department.

Kimberly Chancellor and her attorney, David Lane, filed the complaint last week against the city and Stephan Sparacio, an officer who was off-duty in 2017 when he confronted Chancellor for careless driving.

“He just flipped me on the ground and put his knee in my back,” said Chancellor, who explained she first tried to get away from Sparacio because he was not wearing a uniform and was not easily identifiable as an officer.

“I’m just still terrified of police officers… I physically start shaking. Like, my foot will just start shaking on the pedal,” she said.

Sparacio, who declined to speak to the FOX31 Problem Solvers, was driving a motorcycle when he followed Chancellor to her parking spot and approached her. A bystander captured footage of his encounter with Chancellor.

At one point Sparacio grabs Chancellor’s arm and the forces her to the ground.

“I had dirt in my mouth. He shoved my face on the concrete,” said Chancellor. “I want some sort of accountability.”

Lane represents two other clients who have filed federal lawsuits against the city of Fort Collins, including Michaella Surat and Sean Slatton.

Footage of Surat’s encounter with police went viral after she was slammed onto a sidewalk, head-first, when police were responding to a disturbance at a bar.

Slatton’s encounter, captured on body camera, shows an officer pepper spraying, chasing and striking Slatton with a baton after the officer asked Slatton to leave the property.

“(The Fort Collins police) have a culture that tolerates wildly excessive force. You need to change that or it will cost the taxpayers of Fort Collins millions of dollars,” Lane said.

Carrie Daggett, the city attorney, confirmed there have been at least three settlements — in 2015, 2017 and 2018 — totaling $323,000 related to cases involving excessive force or misconduct claims against the police.

Fort Collins Police Services would not comment on Lane’s pending litigation but did respond to allegations that there is a problem with the culture at the department.

“The use of force by law enforcement personnel is a matter of critical concern, both to the public and to the law enforcement community,” said Kate Kimble, a spokesperson for the department.

She released the following statement on behalf of Fort Collins Police Services:

“Officers are involved on a daily basis in numerous and varied interactions and, when warranted, may use reasonable force in carrying out their duties. The Agency recognizes and respects the value of all human life and dignity without prejudice to anyone. Vesting officers with the authority to use reasonable force and to protect the public welfare requires monitoring, evaluation, and a careful balancing of all interests. 

FCPS officers undergo regular training each year to maintain proficient in the use of defensive tactics and tools. Our Professional Standards and Training Unit also continuously evaluate our tools, tactics, and training to ensure that they remain in line with national best practices.”

Darin Atteberry, the Fort Collins city manager, sent the following statement:

“The City of Fort Collins and Police Services leadership take our responsibilities and commitment to the community seriously. Public safety is a priority, and our policies and practices are designed to support this mission.

We have a comprehensive approach to address use-of-force questions and concerns:

  • We take all community concerns to heart and regularly engage in conversations with residents to discuss topics such as use-of-force.
  • The FCPS Professional Standards and Personnel & Training units continuously evaluate our policies, tactics, tools, and training to ensure that they remain in line with national best practices and City values.
  • We also support multiple levels of review to ensure accountability, including Internal Affairs investigation and evaluation by the Citizen Review Board.”

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