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ACLU complaint filed against Fort Collins police officer

The complaint stems from an incident at the Mennonite Fellowship after church staff called for medical care for a member having a mental health crisis.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado (ACLU) has filed a complaint against a Fort Collins police officer after they said he mishandled an intervention with a person having a mental health crisis at a local church. 

The ACLU complaint stems from an emergency call on Aug. 22 at 2 p.m. from the staff at Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship. They were seeking help for a community member who was struggling with mental health issues and appeared to be in crisis. 

Filed on behalf of Pastor Steve Ramer, the complaint says when emergency medical crews initially responded to the call, they were able to engage calmly with the woman who accepted their offer to take something to calm her down. 

According to the complaint, church staff said the situation was nearly managed with the woman and medical personnel when Fort Collins Police Services (FCPS) Officer Jason Lang arrived on the scene with emergency lights and sirens on, which "escalated the interaction into a violent confrontation."

The complaint says Ramer and other church staff felt confusion and dread when they heard the police sirens. It says an EMT tried to tell Lang that the situation was under control, but when the woman stood up from where she was sitting, he moved past the EMT and began yelling at the woman to sit back down. 

The complaint says Lang grabbed the woman's arm and placed his right hand on her chest and the woman flinched to escape, drawing back her arm in a fist and retreating from the officer.

As the woman backed into a corner of the church building, the complaint says, the officer said she was under arrest, pursued her, grabbed at her chest again, and slammed her into the wall. It says the officer flipped the woman headfirst onto the cement stairs, pinned her down and handcuffed her. People there still recall the sound of the woman's head hitting the concrete, according to the complaint.

The ACLU complaint says because Lang mishandled the intervention, the call for help for a woman who was in crisis instead led to her "distress, injury and arrest at the hands of FCPS."

FCPS said they were aware of the call and supervisors reviewed the officer's body camera footage of the call, as well as video of the incident inside the church that was provided by the fellowship.

Police shared pictures from the officer's body camera, but have not released the video. 

Because the ACLU has filed a complaint, police said internal affairs will now conduct an additional review. 

In a statement to 9NEWS, FCPS said "a mental health response team and all officers receive training regarding mental health; however, this incident originated as a medical call and then was upgraded to an assistance call for aggressive behavior by fire and EMS personnel on scene so the closest officer responded to assist."

FCPS Chief Jeff Swoboda released a video message about the incident: 

According to FCPS, when Lang arrived on the scene, the woman did not follow his instructions and aggressively advanced on the officer. 

Because of the woman's actions, FCPS said, Lang used a takedown technique. Once the woman was in custody, she was taken to the hospital, and no injuries were reported related to the arrest, FCPS said. FCPS said the woman has not filed any complaint with their Internal Affairs office. 

Annie Kurtz, an attorney with the ACLU, said because of incidents like this, the public may hesitate to call an ambulance when someone needs medical care.

"That's dangerous," she said. "This officer's actions eroded public trust in the police department and all city services."

The ACLU said they believe an investigation will confirm that Lang’s conduct was unwarranted and violated FCPS policy. 

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