In recent years, police brutality and questions over excessive use of force have been heavily featured in local and national news. It seems like hardly a week has gone by without a new video of a citizen being shot, beaten, or otherwise assaulted by an officer, with “he said, she said” stories to go along.
One recent video from Colorado involves a 22-year-old student being body slammed to the ground. In the video, Michaella Surat appears to be trying to back away from a Fort Collins police officer that has her in his grasp. She’s wearing tall heels and a skirt, and you can hear her ask, “What did I do?”
Halfway through the nine-second video, the cop slams Surat face-first into the ground. The video is pretty disturbing, and even though nine seconds is not long enough to understand the entire context of the video, it certainly makes an impact (and paints the officers in a negative light).
So what happened before the body slam?
Officers Called to Answer Disturbance, Get “Shoulder Checked”
Surat and her boyfriend were out at a bar in Fort Collins when police were called to address a “disturbance” that allegedly involved Surat’s boyfriend. A spokeswoman for the Fort Collins police, Kate Kimble, said that while the officers were trying to gain information about the incident, Surat “shoulder-checked” an officer and a bouncer at the bar.
While reports say that Surat was told she was free to go (although the boyfriend was not), Kimble noted that she tried to leave with her boyfriend. Kimble then says that Surat “physically obstructed and struck” an officer. This alleged assault is not included in the Instagram video. It will be included on Surat’s criminal record, however. She has been charged with third-degree assault and obstructing an officer.
Kimble has been quoted saying that the body slam was a “standard arrest technique.” Currently, Colorado police are investigating the incident, which was also captured on body cameras. Fort Collins Police Services Chief John Hutto has said that while he cannot control the release of an Instagram video, he can control the release of the body camera videos. Hutto has also said that the Instagram video lacks context.
The full body camera video will help to put the incident into context, but until it is released to the public, we can only address the body slam itself. Is this type of force excessive, or is it truly a standard arrest technique? If officers can make similar accusations about your actions, will they be allowed to use a similar “technique” on you – without consequence?
When Is Use of Force Allowed, and What Type of Force Is Acceptable?
Not all arrests are the same, nor will they necessarily require the same amount of force for justice to be carried out. The body slam in Michaella Surat’s case might have been seen differently if she were a 300-pound man who was verbally threatening officers. Context is extremely important, and often one of the main things that these cases rely on.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police describes the appropriate use of force as the “amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject.” The National Institute of Justice goes further to say that “law enforcement officers should use only the amount of force necessary to mitigate an arrest, make an arrest, or protect themselves or others from harm.” The NIJ also says “use of force is an officer’s last option.”
Resisting Arrest May Result in Use of Force
Let’s focus in on the use of force in making an arrest. When we see videos of cops using what appears to be excessive force, police officers will usually respond that the victim attempted to resist arrest, often by assaulting or threatening the officer in question.
Which brings us to an important point: resisting arrest is a crime in Colorado. When an officer has probable cause and believes that you may have committed a crime, they have the right to put you under arrest. You are not permitted to resist. Moreover, resisting arrest is more than “shoulder checking” or assaulting an officer. Colorado defines resisting arrest as:
- Using or threatening to use physical force or violence against the peace officer or another; or
- Using any other means which creates a substantial risk of causing bodily injury to the peace officer or another
While it is legal to resist an arrest that you believe is unlawful, probable cause is another gray area. Generally speaking, it is best to comply with the officers at the time of the arrest, then fight against charges later with a lawyer present.
Fighting against charges with an experienced attorney is far more likely to end better than trying to stop a police officer from arresting you. As in the case of Michaella Surat, force may be used in your arrest if you are not compliant – and you may end up having to face even more criminal charges.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012-2016 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.