COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Several police officers were so upset over a 2020 protest in front of a fellow officer’s home, they conspired to intimidate activists, arresting several on minor charges and using unjustified search warrants to seize their communications, according to a new lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Colorado.
The suit, which was filed Tuesday morning, names the Chinook Center, a nonprofit activism group, and an individual, Jacqueline Armendariz Unzueta. The lawsuit alleges Colorado Springs Police didn’t have legal justification for search warrants of Chinook Center’s private Facebook messages or Armendariz Unzueta’s computers and other devices which were seized by Colorado Springs Police after their arrests at a July 2021 protest demanding housing for all.
A spokesman for Colorado Springs Police said the department does not comment on pending or active litigation.
“What this case is about is the Colorado Springs Police Department's infiltration, intimidation and then these dragnet search warrants of our clients,” Tim Macdonald, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado, said. “It’s disturbing. You had the Colorado Springs Police Department infiltrate the racial justice and activist community down in Colorado Springs.”
The lengthy complaint alleges Colorado Springs Police officers were angered by a protest involving Chinook Center in August of 2020 in front of the home of another Colorado Springs officer who shot and killed De’Von Bailey in 2019. Bailey was running away from officers when he was shot in the back.
After that protest, the lawsuit alleges CSPD assigned a detective to infiltrate the Chinook Center, posing as an activist. The detective, April Rogers, posed as Chelsie Kurti, even registering to vote under that name. A spokeswoman for the Colorado Secretary of State’s office confirmed a voter record exists for Kurti, but the registration was marked inactive because mail had been returned from her address. Procuring a false voter registration is a violation of state law, Rogers said.
According to the lawsuit, the undercover officer provided information to other officers about members of the organization. Body camera video provided by the ACLU shows an officer flipping through pictures of protesters provided by an undercover officer. On tape, officers are heard discussing at least two undercover officers in the crowd with four other plainclothes officers monitoring the undercover officers in the group. The lawsuit alleges the two leaders of Chinook Center were arrested for minor violations, while officers ignored other members of the crowd.
Armendariz Unzueta was arrested days later, accused of dropping her bike in front of an officer charging her. The officer avoided the bike and wasn’t hurt, but Armendariz Unzueta was charged with felonious attempted assault. Police got a warrant to seize her computers and phones.
“(They) took me to jail and I was left watching body camera video of these strangers in my home rummaging for all of my electronic devices including the external hard drive from like my middle school, high school years that has nothing but pretty decent MP3s on it,” Armendariz Unzueta said.
She said the whole episode was embarrassing.
“I value my integrity and ethics to be targeted for simply speaking the truth in an effort to protect my community… was one of the most painful experience of my life,” she said.
The warrant used to seize Armendariz Unzueta’s wasn’t specific enough to be granted and constituted an unconstitutional search, according to Macdonald.
“There’s absolutely no reason they needed her devices,” he said. “This was an intimidation tactic.”
The lawsuit lays out other instances where Colorado Springs Police allegedly got unspecific warrants to seize property. Macdonald said the federal government should investigate whether Colorado Springs Police has a habit of violating people’s constitutional rights.
“We think an investigation into the pattern and practice of what they’ve been doing ought to concern everyone in Colorado and beyond. Because if they can do this to Jacquelin Armendariz and they can do this to an organization like the Chinook Center, they can do it to anyone,” he said.
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