BOULDER, Colo. — A woman has filed a lawsuit against Boulder County and several sheriff's deputies alleging excessive force after she claims she was struck with a taser while restrained inside the county jail in 2017.
The suit accused the Boulder County Sheriff's Office (BCSO) of using excessive force and violating her rights for reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In response, BCSO posted a lengthy statement on its website. The agency admitted a taser was used but said it had "factual disagreements" with the lawsuit and that their conduct did not amount to excessive force.
Lauren Gotthelf and her service dog Sage were in downtown Boulder on Nov. 25, 2017, and walked on the Pearl Street Mall as they made their way to her car, the lawsuit says.
A Boulder police officer approached her after seeing her light a cigarette, according to the lawsuit. That officer told her she could not smoke or have her service dog on the mall, the lawsuit says.
Gotthelf explained, according to the lawsuit, that Sage was her service dog and she had a right to have him with her under ADA.
The officer told her she would be receiving a summons for having her service dog on the mall, smoking in public and littering, the lawsuit says.
When Gotthelf refused to sign the ticket, the lawsuit says the officer called for backup and "two other officers forcibly arrested" Gotthelf.
After she was booked into the jail, BCSO deputies claimed Gotthelf "expressed an intention to harm herself", the lawsuit says. Gotthelf denies ever making suicidal statements.
The body camera footage below shows the interactions between Gotthelf and the deputies. (Warning: This video contains graphic content and language some viewers may find disturbing.)
In response to their belief that Gotthelf was experiencing a mental health crisis, the deputies demanded that she strip naked and put on a smock, the lawsuit says.
When she questioned why, Gotthelf was told, "It was policy, and she had no choice," the lawsuit alleges. Three deputies entered her jail cell, handcuffed her and "forcibly removed her," according to the lawsuit.
One deputy drew his Taser and kept it trained on Gotthelf, even though she was surrounded by "at least seven BCSO jail employees," the lawsuit says, and "had not physically threatened or resisted any jail deputy."
Gotthelf was "handcuffed behind her back and physically pinned to the restraint chair" by at least four deputies when one deputy tased her on her upper thigh, the lawsuit says.
In a statement on its website, the BSCO said it has "factual disagreements with the allegations within the lawsuit." It noted that Gotthelf "was disruptive" when she arrived at the jail and was placed in a holding cell.
When staff tried to de‐escalate her behavior, Gotthelf was "argumentative" and "continually made negative, vulgar and racist comments to deputies," the BSCO statement says. It says she "continued to yell insults for 45 minutes."
Due to her "resistive behavior," the restraints on the chair could not be secured, according to the statement. She was given commands to sit in the chair and stop resisting but continued to "buck her body and be physically resistant," the BSCO statement says.
A sergeant touch-tased her once with the “drive‐stun” setting in the left thigh for pain compliance, the statement says.
Despite all those efforts, Gotthelf "continued to be uncooperative," the statement says.
In short, according to the BSCO statement, deputies did not use excessive force and instead "used a deliberate and calculated amount of the minimal amount of force required to reduce violence and ensure safety."
BSCO also noted that they first learned of the complaint in early 2019 through a law firm. No complaint was ever filed alleging excessive force in 2017 or 2018.
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