He says he was assaulted in a parking lot. Then Lakewood police violently arrested him.

A city council member took up Ameer Allen’s case out of fear he was falling through the cracks of Colorado’s criminal justice system

By: - July 2, 2021 5:10 am

Ameer Allen poses in the shade of some trees outside the Jefferson County court in Golden on June 30, 2021, after a brief court appearance. Allen was violently arrested in Feb. 26 after what he described as an assault by a tow truck driver. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

A Lakewood man was violently arrested in February after he was involved in an altercation with a tow truck driver. 

Ameer Allen is now facing four misdemeanor charges, including assault, resisting arrest, obstructing a peace officer, and harassment with a maximum jail sentence of four years and up to $7,750 in fines, not including court fees.

But Allen, who is Black, says he was in fact the victim in the case and was assaulted by the tow truck driver, then violently detained by police officers who assumed he was the at-fault party. One of Lakewood’s own council members, an attorney, thinks so, too, and is defending Allen pro bono in court.

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“I never laid a hand on any of them. I literally grabbed myself and grabbed my neck, that way they couldn’t choke me, and rolled into a ball,” Allen said. “I was resisting getting pummeled, yes, but resisting arrest? They could have put handcuffs on me at any point.”

Colorado Newsline filed a public records request to review the police report and any photo and videos available from the day of the incident, but the request was denied by Lakewood Police Cmdr. Mark Reeves. Reeves did not return a call seeking comment. John Romero, public information officer for the Lakewood Police Department, said that the department would not comment on a pending case and the records request for the police report was denied because it is now a part of a criminal investigation and has been turned over to the district attorney’s office. A request to the district attorney’s office was not immediately answered. 

Newsline did obtain a copy of the internal affairs investigation related to Allen’s arrest. But the report, which showed no wrongdoing by the police officers, was highly redacted and did not include witness interviews, photos or videos. Lakewood police do not use body-worn cameras. A bill signed into law in 2020 requires all Colorado law enforcement officers to use them by July 1, 2023.

During a motions hearing related to the case on June 30, Carolyn Wolf, a municipal prosecutor for the city of Lakewood, presented two stacks of CD-ROM disks to the defense and to Riley Goya, the district attorney handling the case. The disks contain the unredacted version of the internal affairs report. But the court swiftly placed a protective order on the report, meaning that neither party can share the information outside the court. 

“I would think if that order was put in, then more than likely you would not be able to get those documents,” Romero said. Wolf did not immediately respond to a request for more information. A city representative on Thursday told Newsline that she is out of town “for the next few days.”

Allen’s trial was originally set for July 8 but has since been rescheduled for Aug. 23.

The arrest

When Kwana Austin slid open her bedroom curtains on Feb. 26 to let the morning light in, she noticed a tow truck circling the parking lot of her Lakewood apartment complex. She woke up her boyfriend, Allen, and told him to go check on his car.

As soon as Allen jumped in the driver’s seat, he said the tow truck driver backed up behind his car and clamped down on his wheels. ‘I was like, ‘Dude, what are you doing? I’m in my car, you can’t just drive off with me in the car,’” he recalled.

Then they proceeded to slam me into the ground ... They start beating me, jumping on me and kicking me and I’m just curled up in the fetal position, trying to protect my vitals. They beat me till I was unconscious.

– Ameer Allen, describing his arrest by Lakewood police

The two argued, and the driver got out of his truck and walked towards Allen, who had put his hands up in front of him, Allen said. “He knocked my hands out of the way, and I put my hands back up and was like, ‘Look man, you’re not going anywhere, and you’re not taking my car,’” Allen said. “Then he knocks my hands away again and he punches me in the face.”

A photograph taken from Kwana Austin’s bedroom of her being held by a Lakewood Police officer as she tried to film her boyfriend being violently arrested on Feb. 26, 2021. (Courtesy of Kwana Austin)

When a fleet of Lakewood police officers arrived after the property manager called 911, they questioned Allen. “They were like, ‘We want your name, what’s your date of birth,’ this and that, giving me the whole rundown and being really aggressive,” Allen said. “And I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, aren’t you guys supposed to take a statement from me? I’m the victim here.’” 

When Allen refused to give one of the officer’s his birthdate until he received more information about what was going to happen to the truck driver, another officer came up behind him and put him in a chokehold, Allen said.

“Then they proceeded to slam me into the ground,” Allen said. “They start beating me, jumping on me and kicking me and I’m just curled up in the fetal position, trying to protect my vitals. They beat me till I was unconscious.”

Austin pulled out her phone and started video recording the four officers who were on top of Allen. A photo captured by her 7-year-old daughter, who watched the events unfold from her mother’s bedroom window along with her two teenage sisters, shows an officer restraining Austin from filming.

“I just kept yelling, I have a right to record this,” Austin said. “I was petrified. It’s such a scary feeling, to watch somebody that you really really care about nearly lose their life for something as little as not answering a question. Because that’s what it was.”

The next thing Allen remembers is waking up in the police car. He was taken to two nearby hospitals for medical treatment and a strangulation test, then was booked in the Jefferson County jail, where he was held for a night. 

“I think about it now and I’m like, who does this to another human being, for no reason?” Allen said. “I feel like people overlook the fact that this is a human being, that people are just beating for no reason, and they feel like they have the right to do something inhumane just because they’re cops.”

After hearing Allen’s story, a council member took up his case

City Councilwoman Anita Springsteen first heard about Allen’s case after a Jeffco Public Schools counselor wrote to city council on March 12 expressing concerns that Austin’s three daughters had been traumatized after witnessing the alleged police brutality. Three educators came to speak at the city’s March 22 council meeting.

After that meeting, Springsteen got in contact with Allen and Austin to hear more. During that conversation, Allen told her he had appeared at his first court date in March without counsel and was told he didn’t qualify for a public defender.

The outside of Jefferson County Court, located in Golden, on June 3, 2021. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

“I became very concerned about what was going to happen in the legal proceedings at that point,” Springsteen said, who is a practicing defense attorney. “He and Kwana were living in Section 8 housing and he’s on unemployment and he’s now suffering the effects of being beaten up, both physically and psychologically. He could really barely function.”

Before his next hearing in April, Springsteen filed to be his attorney.

“It was really not my first choice because of the fact that I’m also on council, but I didn’t want him to be further victimized than he already had been,” she said. “I didn’t want him to get lost in the system.”

Since she took Allen’s case, she’s been overwhelmed by the number of Lakewood residents flooding her with stories alleging police abuse, she said.

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Susie Dude, a licensed school counselor in Jeffco school district, was one of the educators who spoke during the city council meeting in March. She also submitted a request to the Lakewood Police Department’s internal affairs division to investigate the alleged police brutality that her students witnessed.

In response to Dude’s testimony at a later city council meeting, Lakewood Mayor Adam Paul chimed in to say that he “hoped everybody involved in the incident is cooperating with the investigation.”

When Allen and Austin were contacted by the internal affairs division, they declined the division’s requests. They didn’t want to speak to officers in the same department that had contributed to their trauma and abuse, they said. Dude, who was not a witness, was not contacted by internal affairs.

After Allen called in to give public comment during the city’s June 14 council meeting, Paul offered his thoughts again.

A Lakewood police vehicle is parked outside the Lakewood Public Safety Center on June 28, 2020. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

“I will mention that there was an investigation done, we do take these very seriously, and the claims of abuse were unsubstantiated,” the mayor said during the meeting. “There were three independent witnesses who watched what took place, that is a public report and the community is welcome to look at it.”

Springsteen feels it’s inappropriate for a mayor to weigh in on a pending criminal case. “It’s not up to the mayor to decide if someone is guilty or not,” she said, adding that the three witnesses referenced in the report includes the tow truck driver, who Allen says is the one who assaulted him.

When Dude received a copy of the completed internal affairs report, she wanted more answers.

“It was so vague, what they sent me,” said Dude, who wants the city to implement a citizen review board for the police department, as other cities have, and for officers to be required to wear body-worn cameras. 

“I didn’t get any answers in that report, and so I’m still just wondering why they came to that conclusion,” Dude said. “And if I’m still wondering, I can’t imagine how the kiddos are feeling.”

As a mental health professional, she’s worried about the long-term effects the event will have on Austin’s kids.

“When kids see this, when they see somebody who’s supposed to be in a position of power and who’s supposed to be protecting us citizens, when they see them being violent and abusing that power and taking their power too far and using excessive force, it makes the world a scarier place,” she said.

“And when a kid of color witnesses a person of color enduring this abuse, I think there’s also the racial issue of, you know, ‘The police are not here to protect people who look like me,'” Dude said. “In a young kid’s brain, trying to make sense of that, it’s really hard, and it can lead to problematic internalization of their race and their identity.”

A convoluted and expensive court process

Springsteen says that Allen has been subject to unfair treatment at every step of the legal process.

He was originally assigned a public defender, but on March 8, the lawyer filed a motion to withdraw due to a conflict of interest with a witness in the case, according to Springsteen. Then on March 17, when he went to court, the judge told him that he did not financially qualify for a public defender. 

“But (the judge) did not file an order allowing the withdrawal of that public defender until after I entered, so on April 16,” Springsteen said. “I took issue with that, because at the March 17 hearing, the district attorney questioned my client without counsel present, and took statements from him without counsel, and the judge had him appear before her without counsel present.”

The fact that he doesn’t qualify for a public defender baffles Springsteen.

“Looking at his application, he only makes like 1,400 bucks a month on unemployment, and his expenses are equal to that,” Springsteen said. “He has no additional income to pay an attorney. So, in our state, we are turning people away for public defenders and alternative defense counsel who are literally living hand to mouth on unemployment during a pandemic.”

Ameer Allen shows the ankle monitor he is required to wear in the months leading up to his trial in August. The unit tests whether a person has consumed alcohol, though the charges he is being accused of are not related to drugs or alcohol. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

During Allen’s first motion hearing with Springsteen as his counsel, the county judge, Verna Carpenter, halted the proceedings because she said she couldn’t judge Allen’s credibility over WebEx.

“The Colorado Supreme Court just decided a case saying that it’s perfectly fine for prosecutors, and cops to appear by WebEx, but in this situation, when the shoe was on the other foot, we were not allowed to proceed,” Springsteen said.

The day after the halted motions hearing, the DA filed another charge against Allen, alleging he was the one who assaulted the tow truck driver.

“One of the biggest egregious things to me is that the district attorney admitted he cannot find this alleged victim because he does not have a good phone number or address,” Springsteen said. “How can you charge my client with a fourth charge when you haven’t even talked to the alleged victim. How is that possible?”

The day after the DA filed a new charge, Lakewood’s pretrial services recommended to the court that Allen’s bond be revoked for not complying with their mandatory drug testing.

“The DA and the judge both agreed that he never should have been put on (urine drug tests) in the first place, because this case didn’t involve drugs or alcohol,” Springsteen said. “They agreed with that. However, they said they were not going to reward him for his noncompliance by allowing him to stop doing that.”

Instead, he was ordered to wear a SCRAM unit — an expensive ankle monitor that tests whether a person has consumed alcohol. The unit vibrates every 30 minutes to an hour and has kept Allen from sleeping.

“He has a whole new set of requirements that’s going to cost him money he doesn’t have,” she added.

Allen is currently on unemployment benefits after being let go from his job as a security guard after falling asleep during his lunch break. He’s been applying for jobs, but said that people have taken notice of his ankle monitor. “People automatically assume things about you, when they see you have an ankle monitor on,” he added. “I’m just so tired of it all.”

Lasting trauma

A few weeks after Allen was violently arrested, Austin got a call from her youngest daughter’s school counselor, who told her that her daughter was having trouble sleeping at night because whenever she closed her eyes she could hear Allen screaming.

“It took nearly two and a half months to get her back comfortable, not sleeping with me,” Austin said. “Even now, if the police get behind me and I’m driving my children, they completely freak out.”

Austin wants accountability, and for Lakewood police officers to wear body-worn cameras.

“I want somebody to say, ‘OK, yes, this was excessive and maybe we could have handled this differently,’” she said. “Nobody wants to take responsibility, but they are constantly trying to hold people up to the highest stature but they don’t do it themselves.”

Ameer Allen poses for a portrait in his car parked outside the Jefferson County Court in Golden on June 30, 2021, after a brief court appearance. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

Austin is in the process of getting her two youngest daughters into therapy. “They’re under the impression that even if we’re being robbed, don’t call the police,” she said. “They shouldn’t feel like that. If something is really happening, and we’re in danger, they should have someone to turn to.”

A heavy police presence in the weeks after the event made it difficult for Austin and her family to process what had happened, she said. “Anytime you walk outside, you will see a cop in the parking lot, or driving past,” she said. “They were everywhere.”

She started taking a picture anytime one was outside their house. “I’ve been in my house for six years and I’ve never seen such a strong police presence,” she said.

For Allen, the last few months have been some of the hardest of his life, he said. 

“I’m at a point now where I’m like, I hate to say it, but I’m kind of numb to everything,” he said. “I’ve been in that house kind of depressed. I don’t even like admitting it, but, I mean, I’ve felt suicidal at times, because this has all literally stolen all of my hope for anything.”

Austin and Allen have since broken up. Allen said she didn’t want to move from her home and he didn’t feel safe staying in the place where he was assaulted. “I felt like for my safety and for their safety, I had to go away,” he said.

Since the incident in February, he said he’s been stopped multiple times by Lakewood police and got a traffic violation for allegedly failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign.

“It’s just been constant, going to court, constant harassment, and really I’ve been afraid for my life,” he said. “They’re gonna end up killing me, before I even have my day in court, and then they’ll explain that away like there was a good reason for them to do it.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5:19 p.m., July 2, 2021, to correct a misattributed quote.

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Moe Clark
Moe Clark

Moe Clark is a former Colorado Newsline reporter that covered criminal justice, housing and homelessness, and other social issues.

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