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Fort Collins pays $450K to settle police brutality lawsuits

The city is also facing two pending lawsuits for reported police brutality incidents involving Fort Collins Police Services.
Credit: KUSA
Fort Collins police

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Fort Collins paid $450,000 dollars to settle two police brutality lawsuits involving women, the city confirmed Wednesday.

Amanda King, a spokesperson for city, said the city reached settlement agreements with:

  • Natasha Patnode, for $325,000
  • Kimberley Chancellor, for $125,000

Fort Collins Police Services (FCPS) Chief Jeff Swoboda said the department "takes use of force very seriously," according to a statement.

"Our training and policies reflect this, and we have effective internal and external systems to ensure that individuals are held accountable if they operate outside of agency expectations,” Swoboda said.

FCPS said in a statement that the Personnel and Training Unit continuously evaluates tools, tactics and training to ensure they remain in line with the best-recognized practices.

"The agency’s culture, policies and training reflect a philosophy of deescalation," FCPS said in the statement. "One-third of Fort Collins officers are certified in Crisis Intervention Team training...In any situation, the safety of all involved parties is our priority."

The city is also facing two lawsuits for reported police brutality incidents filed by Michaella Surat and Sean Slatton, FCPS said they could not comment on the pending litigation.

Natasha Patnode

The city paid $325,000 to settle the lawsuit with Patnode over the reported incident, which occurred on March 29, 2018.

FCPS said former officer Todd Hopkins was driving home from a shift when he responded to a shoplifting call at Target on 105 W. Troutman Parkway because he was close by, and was the first officer to arrive on the scene.

Hopkins was not wearing a body-mounted camera because his shift had just ended, but a second responding officer was wearing a body camera, which captured the last several minutes of the incident, according to FCPS.

FCPS said the suspect was fighting with staff in the store's loss prevention office area.

For about six minutes, Hopkins attempted to take the suspect into custody while she verbally and physically resisted, according to the department. 

A second officer arrived to assist and the suspect was taken into custody after two more minutes, FCPS said.

The suspect and a Target employee were both injured, according to FCPS.

Patnode eventually pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and resisting arrest.

FCPS said the investigation into the incident was initiated internally, leadership requested external assistance and reviews to ensure transparency, and the final disciplinary recommendation was severe.

Hopkins resigned before any disciplinary action could take place, and the district attorney's office decided not to file any criminal charges.

Following the investigation, FCPS said a comprehensive review of the agency's use of force policies and training protocols was conducted to ensure they met or exceeded the national standards.

In addition, FCPS said all officers received training to "reinforce agency expectations and appropriate tactical decision-making."

RELATED: Fort Collins Police officer resigns after 'unnecessary use of force' in Target shoplifting arrest

Kimberly Chancellor

The city paid $125,000 to settle the lawsuit with Chancellor over an Oct. 6, 2017 incident in a parking lot near the Colorado State University (CSU) campus.

FCPS said plainclothes officer Stephen Sparacio was heading to an assignment when he saw Chancellor's car speeding in traffic and followed her until she stopped.

According to the lawsuit, Chancellor said she noticed a man on an unmarked motorcycle following her to her apartment, which made her "extremely nervous."

Chancellor continued to walk away until Sparacio identified himself as a police officer and "informed her she would be arrested and taken to jail," according to the lawsuit.

That's when the lawsuit claimed the officer grabbed Chancellor's arm and pulled her towards her car while demanding her license and registration.

Chancellor said she was suspicious about the officer's "aggressive behavior" and started to slowly back away, which is when he threw her on the ground and pinned her down with his knee, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claimed that the officer "used greater force than was reasonably necessary." 

As a result of the incident, Chancellor said she suffered injuries including multiple cuts, bruises and an egg-sized bump on her forehead, the lawsuit claimed.

A bystander's video showed officer Sparacio interacting with Chancellor and pinning her to the ground.

Following the incident, a full investigation took place, the case was sent to the Citizen Review Board for external review and internal action was taken to address the officer's decision making, according to FCPS.

RELATED: Woman sues police officer and city of Fort Collins after 2017 arrest by off-duty cop

Michaella Surat

The city is still facing a lawsuit over an incident on April 6, 2017 involving then-CSU student Michaella Surat.

FCPS said Surat was arrested after she hit an officer multiple times.

A bystander's video showed a FCPS officer forcing Surat to the pavement.

Surat was convicted in August 2018 of misdemeanor charges of obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest. She was sentenced to one year of supervised probation and 48 hours of community service.

The officer involved was cleared after an internal investigation.

RELATED: CSU student thrown to ground during arrest gets probation

Sean Slatton

The city is also still facing a lawsuit filed by Steve Slatton over a Dec. 3, 2016 incident.

According to the lawsuit, Slatton was attending his spouses' sorority event when he was asked to leave "due to false information."

Slatton immediately left the building and began ordering a car service to take him back to his hotel when he was "attacked" by two FCPS officers while waiting next to the event building's parking lot, the lawsuit claims.

Slatton was hospitalized after being hit with a baton and pepper-sprayed, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that the officers' body cameras and the event building's security footage show the reported incident took place within one minute of Slatton being told to exit the building by the officers and was "completely unprovoked." 

Slatton was charged with third-degree criminal trespassing, obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest. A motion to drop all charges was granted in September 2020, the lawsuit said.

Former FCPS officer Todd Hopkins, who resigned after the Patnode case, is named as one of the defendants in Slatton's lawsuit.

The Coloradoan and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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