Man Left Blind After Police Pepper Spray for Refusing Citation

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A man from Ft. Collins in Colorado has filed a lawsuit for a physical assault he claims he suffered at the hands of police officers. The incident, captured on bodycam footage, occurred two years ago.

The video shows Andru Kulas and police officers having a discussion. He was suspected of trespassing. The situation escalated when Kulas refused the citation that the officer attempted to give him.

A Fort Collins resident is suing police after he was pepper sprayed two years ago when he refused to accept a trespassing ticket.

Andru Kulas’ attorney Sarah Schielke has filed a federal lawsuit for civil rights on his behalf in relation to the incident which occurred early morning of August 29, 2021. The lawsuit names both the City of Fort Collins and two officers, Kevin Park & Avery Hanzlicek.

The lawsuit states that Kulas lost his father suddenly and was drinking with friends on the evening of August 28, 2021. Fort Collins Police Services officers contacted Kulas just before 2 a.m. on August 29, 2021, in Old Town Fort Collins, in response to an alleged trespassing call. The lawsuit claims that Kulas and another man are accused of climbing onto the roof of Brothers Bar and Grill, where there were “no-trespassing signs”. Police arrived before either man was on the rooftop.

Schielke released footage from a body-worn camera of Kulas being arrested. Kulas is shown making derogatory remarks to officers as they write him a ticket.

Kulas tells the officers in the video that an unidentified man pushed his girlfriend down at the bar where they were drinking. His friends and he went outside to search for the person. They ran to the roof to see him better after they couldn’t find him. They climbed down the stairs after a few moments when they couldn’t find the person.

The bouncer called the police a few moments later to report the two men who had gone up on the roof. The conversation started when the police arrived and the bouncer pointed out Kulas and Kulas’ friends.

In the lawsuit, it is noted that the officers “ignored’ Kulas’s comments regarding his girlfriend allegedly being assaulted by a third party. This prompted him to criticize the officers. According to the video, the officer wrote a summons for Kulas. Kulas refused the citation that the officer handed him. The lawsuit argues that Kulas was within his right to refuse the document.

The lawsuit stated that “[Officer] Park demonstrated that he was aware that Mr. Kulas could decline to accept the physical summons by telling Mr. Kulas he would not know his court dates if he did not have the summons. And if Mr. Kulas missed his court dates, then a warrant for his arrest would be issued.”

The officer tried to force the document into Kulas’ hand. Kulas then pushed the officer’s hand away. Park grabbed Kulas’s jacket and threw Kulas to the ground, where he and his partner held him. Park fired his pepper spray into Kulas’ face only two inches from him. Kulas, who was arrested for obstructing and resisting an officer of the peace and obstructing police for 36 hours, was then put in jail. Later, the prosecution dropped all of these charges.

The lawsuit claims that the damage had been done. Kulas suffered serious eye damage and claimed he was “functionally sighted” for several days. He still had vision problems two years after the accident.

The Fort Collins Police Department reviewed the actions of its officers and determined that they had committed no crimes.

Citizens Review Boards are a group of community members appointed by the City Council to review and recommend police officers’ actions in relation to policies and procedures. The CRB subcommittee unanimously decided that the officer was exonerated from the allegations of excessive force. The City of Fort Collins, and Fort Collins Police Services, will contest the allegations in the lawsuit.

The officer’s actions from where I sit were egregious in a number of ways.

There was no need to use any force, especially pepper spray. The civilians did not threaten the officers or act violently. He was criticizing the officers’ actions, yes, but that is not illegal. He was engaging in constitutionally-protected speech which means the officers had no business trying to arrest him.

Second, it is not required by law that an individual accept or sign a citation issued to them from a peace officer. The officer at the scene confirmed that law enforcement officers cannot force a civilian to accept this type of documentation. Kulas would have been able to find out the court date later and the officer wouldn’t have had to escalate the situation.

The issue is bigger than the story. It is disturbing to realize that other law enforcement officers often get away with this kind of behavior and rarely face criminal charges. Imagine what you would do if one of us pepper sprayed someone without a valid reason. If we wear a badge or uniform, our justice system will accept the behavior.

Kulas hopes that the civil suit will allow him to hold the officer accountable, even though he will not be charged criminally. What can stop police from abusing authority and violating rights if they know that they will not face any consequences for their actions?