City, ex-Fort Collins police officer sued by multiple people alleging false DUI arrests

Coloradoan — Five separate lawsuits were filed against a former Fort Collins police officer and the city this week accusing the former officer of making repeated wrongful arrests for driving under the influence and accusing the police department of failing to properly supervise him.

Each lawsuit details an incident involving the former officer, Jason Haferman. The lawsuits accuse him of falsely arresting people on suspicion of driving under the influence in five separate incidents from June 2021 through April 2022, while Haferman was Fort Collins police’s DUI officer. They also include a timeline of a total of 17 alleged false DUI arrests Haferman made from November 2020 through April 2022.

Allegations against Haferman include that he made false claims that people showed signs of impairment, improperly administered the roadside sobriety tests and violated Colorado law and Fort Collins police policy by deactivating or muting his body-worn camera during portions of some of these interactions.

In all five cases, blood tests results from the people accused of DUI came back as “none detected," according to the lawsuits.

Haferman's DUI cases came under scrutiny about a year ago after Derrick Groves publicly accused Haferman of falsely arresting him for DUI and announced his intent to sue Haferman. Groves is one of the five people who filed a lawsuit this week.

"Mr. Groves is not just a statistic or one of many victims — his life was upended by Officer Haferman and Fort Collins Police," Matthew Haltzman, an attorney representing Groves in this case, said in a statement to the Coloradoan. "It is our hope that this lawsuit, which seeks to hold those accountable for the harm they caused to so many Larimer County residents, sets a new tone and direction for police accountability in Fort Collins."

Haferman resigned from Fort Collins Police Services in December following an internal investigation into his repeated DUI arrests of individuals whose blood test results came back negative, according to the internal investigation report obtained by the Coloradoan. If he had not resigned, he would have been terminated, Chief Jeff Swoboda wrote in his discipline decision.

Fort Collins police said in a statement Friday that “no one with the City of Fort Collins or Fort Collins (Police) Services has been served (with any lawsuits) at this time.” Online court records show all five lawsuits were filed in Larimer County district court Wednesday.

The lawsuits filed this week also list Sgt. Allen Heaton and an unnamed corporal as defendants, accusing them of insufficiently supervising Haferman and not thoroughly reviewing Haferman's DUI cases where blood test results came back negative for drugs and alcohol. The supervising corporal’s name is not known publicly because it was redacted from Haferman’s internal investigation report, according to Sarah Schielke, the attorney representing the individuals in all five cases.

Here’s more about each incident referenced in each of the five lawsuits, according to the complaints:

The lawsuits allege that, in all five cases, the blood tests came back with results of “none detected,” meaning the individuals did not have detectable levels or drugs or alcohol in their systems. The district attorney's office dismissed all of these cases once the blood test results came back several months later.

These cases are 'illustrative of a major problem'

For Elias, this was not the first time he says he was falsely accused of driving under the influence.

Elias has another pending lawsuit — this one against Loveland police officer William Gates — alleging Gates wrongfully arrested him on suspicion of DUI while Gates was working in Fort Collins as a member of the Reduce All Impaired Driving task force in January 2020. That case is still pending, Schielke said.

When this happened to him again nearly two years later, Elias said "at first, it was kind of utter disbelief."

"For it to happen twice was truly shocking," Elias said in an interview with the Coloradoan, adding that what happened to him is "illustrative of a major problem of the way drunk driving is being enforced in this community."

Elias said his past experience with police helped him stay calm despite being afraid, angry and frustrated.

Elias was also charged with child abuse at the time because his teenage son was in the car, and because of that charge a judge ordered that he not drive anyone under the age of 18 while the case was ongoing. As a single father, Elias said that was very difficult to manage and to explain to his children's friends' families.

"I don't know when (the impacts) will end," Elias said.

Cunningham, who was also charged with child abuse because his children were with him in the car, said this has had long-term impacts on him and his family.

His arrest came at the end of an already challenging and traumatic day for him and his family, Cunningham said. They learned of a close family friend's death earlier that day, and while trying to head to their next vacation destination, the family witnessed a multi-vehicle crash involving several motorcyclists. Cunningham — who has experience as a military police officer — told the Coloradoan he was the first person on the scene and helped save an injured motorcyclist's leg.

Cunningham and his family were waiting to give investigators their witness statements when Haferman came up and told him another officer said Cunningham smelled like alcohol, Cunningham said in an interview.

"To be immediately arrested after assisting someone in that manner and in those circumstances was pretty devastating," Cunningham said. "... It was such a shock, I actually couldn't believe what was happening. ... It seemed absurd."

Cunningham said this affected everything in his life, from being passed up on a promotion at work to his wife and children continuing to experience trauma from watching him be arrested.

"Devastating doesn't even explain it," he said.

All claims made in civil lawsuits are allegations, and all defendants named in these lawsuits are considered innocent until and unless proven otherwise.

See the original article here: https://www.coloradoan.com/story/news/2023/05/05/ex-fort-collins-police-officer-faces-lawsuit-alleging-false-dui-arrests/70188781007/

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