FORT LUPTON, Colo. (KDVR) — Police were looking for a white male who had just led them on a high speed chase, after stealing beer and laundry detergent from a Safeway in Firestone on April 27, 2019.
But the person they released a K-9 on and then handcuffed was a 14-year old Hispanic male.
Now the teenager and his family are suing four law enforcement officers from three different agencies.
Angel Nunez and his sister had just stepped outside their apartment complex in Fort Lupton to see what the police activity was about, when Nunez was tackled to the ground by officers and attacked by a police German Shepherd.
It turns out the white male suspect had ditched a stolen car in a field and took off running towards the apartment complex, where Angel lives with his family.
Body cam footage obtained by the Problem Solvers shows officers running in the dark and as soon as they see Nunez, one officer yells, “That’s our guy right there.”
A moment later, Angel is thrown to the ground and bitten in the leg by a K-9 belonging to Weld County Sheriff Deputy Larry Neugebauer. Neugebauer is being sued along with Fort Lupton Police Officer Bryan Whyard and Firestone Police Officers Nate Morton and Justin Ellis.
A suspect description sent out over police radio had described the suspect as a white male, with dark hair standing 5’9 to 5’10 wearing a black jacket, black pants and white shoes.
At the time, Angel stood closer to 5’4” and was wearing a grey hoodie and black shoes.
Angel’s parents are seen on body cam running out of their apartment and confronting officers immediately.
Officer Morton is heard telling the boy’s parents, “Let us do our job and then I will talk to you,” and Angel’s mother, Priscilla Nuzez-Espinoza, responded, “You’re not doing your job, you’re arresting the wrong [expletive] kid, that’s what you`re doing.”
Officer Morton replied, “They were in a stolen vehicle ma’am.”
Only after Nunez and Officer Whyward (who helped tackle Nuzez) were both bitten by the K-9, can Officer Morton be heard asking another officer if the teenage boy matched the suspect description.
A fellow officer seen on body cam whispers the suspect is White.
Yet, it would be another 25 minutes before police removed the handcuffs from Angel so they could take him to the hospital to be treated for bite wounds.
“It later got infected and he had to go back to the hospital so this was a very significant dog bite,” said Adam Frank, the attorney representing Angel. “Police officers had a description of a white male, 5`9′, 5`10′ and the person they attacked was a 5`4′ Hispanic child who was not wearing a blue shirt, like the description said, who was not wearing white shoes like the description said.”
Morton can be heard calling a supervisor on his body cam and telling him, “We’re in a pickle buddy. The issue is we don’t have the right suspect and he got bit by a dog.”
But a minute later, Morton tells the supervisor, “Our suspect was wearing white shoes. This guy fits the description to a T, other than he’s wearing black shoes. But I mean close match, Hispanic male, dark like, dark grayish hoodie and this is what this guy had on and dark pants. The only difference was white shoes.”
That description infuriated civil right attorney Adam Frank.
“That’s what’s crazy. This officer starts telling his supervisor, ‘Well, the description was of a Hispanic male.’ It wasn’t, it just wasn’t. It shows that they’re not even thinking about whether or not the person met the description when they tackled him and sicced the dog on him.”
Moments after describing the so-called similarities between Angel and the actual suspect, Morton mutes the audio on his body cam while talking to a fellow officer about what happened.
“Turning off the audio on their body camera the second they are about to start talking about quote unquote, ‘what actually happened.’ It’s very suspicious,” said Frank.
Just as bad, said the civil rights attorney, is that Morton can be heard on body cam telling Angel he was at fault for not listening to officer commands to get on the ground.
Body cam footage shared with FOX31 indicates officers never identified themselves before they tackled Angel and released the K-9 dog.
“Rather than apologize, rather than bend over backwards and say ‘Oh my God, look at this horrible thing we did to a completely innocent child,’ they blame him,” said Frank.
None of the law enforcement agencies named in the lawsuit would provide a comment to FOX31.
The Problem Solvers asked Firestone Police Chief David Montgomery if officer Morton violated body cam policy by turning off his audio and he refused to say. But the Problem Solves learned through a public records request that Morton was never the target of an internal affairs investigation.
As for adult white male seen on surveillance video stealing beer and laundry detergent from the Safeway, he was never caught.