Fort Collins man alleges police officer permanently damaged his vision with pepper spray in new lawsuit

CPR - A Fort Collins man is suing the city, alleging two of its police officers used excessive force while issuing a summons in 2021, causing permanent damage to his vision.

Attorneys for Andru Kulas filed the civil suit against Fort Collins and the two police officers Sunday. In the complaint, Kulas said he was out drinking with friends in Old Town Fort Collins on August 28, 2021, when Fort Collins officers Kevin Park and Avery Hanzlicek made contact with him over a reported trespassing on the roof of a nearby bar.

The lawsuit said Kulas told officers that they were trying to find a group of men who had injured his friend’s girlfriend earlier that night. As Hanzlicek was writing a summons to issue Kulas for petty offense third degree trespass, Kulas began criticizing the officers for their perceived lack of concern towards his friend’s girlfriend.

“You don’t care. [My friend’s girlfriend] got her head knocked down on the ground,” Kulas said in footage from Park’s body camera.

“If you keep encroaching on [Hanzlicek’s] space, you’re going to get a ticket,” Park responded.

Though Kulas backed away initially, he continued to step back towards the officer as he continued to make critical comments.

When Hanzlicek finished writing up the summons — an official notice telling a defendant they’re being summoned to criminal court — he attempted to hand it to Kulas, who refused to take it. Park then said if Kulas refuses to take it, he won’t know his court date and a warrant will be issued for his arrest if he misses it. The lawsuit states Kulas was within his rights to refuse the summons.

After the officers continued trying to have Kulas voluntarily take the summons, Kulas said he would have his attorney find out the court date so he could attend. Body camera footage shows Park taking the summons and pushing the piece of paper into Kulas’ chest.

Kulas backed away against a wall and continued to refuse, swatting Park’s hand away from him. Park then grabbed Kulas’ jacket and began wrestling him to the ground with Hanzlicek’s help.

“Rather than leave Mr. Kulas alone and move on, however, Defendant Park decided to escalate the encounter by aggressively and menacingly pursuing after Mr. Kulas (who was walking away) and deploying excessive physical violence,” the lawsuit said.

Officers yelled at Kulas to stop resisting, while attempting to put his arms behind his back. His friends were frantically yelling at Kulas and officers to stop. After a brief struggle, officers rolled Kulas onto his back and he stopped moving. With one hand on Kulas’ lapel, Park pulled out his pepper spray and held it inches from Kulas’ face.

“Comply or force will be used against you. Comply. Turn over,” Park said in body camera footage.

“Are you serious right now?” Kulas responded.

“Turn over,” Park again said.

Kulas was starting to reply when Park used his pepper spray at point blank range. The video footage later shows Kulas heaving on the sidewalk with a bright red, tear-soaked face.

Officers then took Kulas to jail, where he stayed for 36 hours. He is seen on video collapsing off a bench at one point and saying he couldn’t breath.

Police originally charged Kulas with obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest. Those charges were later dismissed.

The lawsuit alleges Kulas was functionally blind due to the pepper spray and couldn’t work for several days after being released. It also alleges the officers never told Kulas he was under arrest until after they sprayed him, and that he had the right to leave up until that point.

Kulas is seeking relief for “pain, suffering, humiliation, emotional distress, anxiety, terror, attorney fees and other damages.” His civil rights lawsuit, filed by attorneys Sarah Schielke and Matthew Haltzman, alleges his First, Fourth and 14th Amendment rights were violated during the arrest.

See the original article here:  https://www.cpr.org/2023/08/30/fort-collins-man-alleges-police-officer-permanently-damaged-his-vision-with-pepper-spray-in-new-lawsuit/

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