Ameer Allen takes a moment outside the Jefferson County Court in Golden on June 30, 2021, after a brief court appearance. Allen was violently arrested in Feb. 26 after he says he was assaulted by a tow truck driver. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)
A Jefferson County judge on Monday allowed the jury trial date to be pushed back for a Lakewood man who in February was involved in a physical altercation with a tow truck driver and ultimately arrested by police officers.
Ameer Allen is charged with four misdemeanors, 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 arrested without warning by three police officers who assumed he was the at-fault party.
The request for a continuance on Aug. 23 — which was brought on the day the trial was set to begin — was made by Allen’s lawyer, Anita Springsteen, because they were missing a key witness in their case.
More information also recently surfaced regarding one of the police officers who arrested Allen being involved with another serious instance of alleged police brutality and racial profiling in 2012.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Springsteen told the court that Kwana Austin, Allen’s ex-girlfriend, who witnessed and filmed part of the incident in February, was afraid to come to court because she felt intimidated by the heavy police presence around her apartment complex in the previous weeks. One of her daughters, who also witnessed Allen’s arrest from her mother’s bedroom window, also recently tested positive for COVID-19.
Given the circumstances, Springsteen asked if Austin could testify remotely, as has been done throughout the pandemic. But the request was denied.
“(Webex) has allowed us to get through the pandemic, but it has limitations, severe limitations, and it is not the best way to present evidence to a jury,” Judge Verna Carpenter told Springsteen. “I’m sorry, it is simply not reliable.”
Springsteen, a Lakewood City Council member, took on Ameer’s case pro bono after a group of Jeffco Public School educators gave public testimony at a meeting expressing concerns that Austin’s three daughters had been traumatized after witnessing the alleged police brutality.
Since the continuance was requested by the defense, they were also forced to waive Allen’s right to a speedy trial — a mandate that says a trial must occur within six months of a defendant entering a not guilty plea.
The jury trial, which will likely span two days, is now set to begin on Nov. 17.
Concerns brought by the defense
During the relatively short court proceeding on Aug. 23, Springsteen brought up concerns she had regarding how her client’s case had been handled.
She told the court that she thought it was a conflict of interest for the district attorney’s office to have recently hired Michele Wagner, a former Lakewood Police Department sergeant, to lead the office’s investigations team.
The case against Allen is being prosecuted by the office of Alexis King, who is the district attorney of the 1st Judicial District, which encompasses Gilpin and Jefferson counties. King, who took office in January, is the first Democrat and first woman to assume the role.
Wagner’s new appointment was announced in King’s newsletter on July 14. Before her appointment, Wagner helped oversee the Lakewood police internal affairs investigation into the allegations of excessive use of force used against Allen during his arrest. The internal investigation found no wrongdoing by the police officers.
Springsteen also brought up concerns about a history of excessive force she recently learned about with one of the officers involved in her client’s case. In 2016, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an earlier ruling that had granted Lakewood police officer Todd Clifford qualified immunity in a case that involved alleged excessive use of force.
The incident happened in 2012, when Latonya Davis, a disabled Black woman, was stopped by Lakewood police for driving with a suspended license, according to court documents. After asking for reassurance that the officers, including Clifford, wouldn’t hurt her if she exited the car, officers allegedly smashed her driver’s side window and dragged her out of it by her hair and arms and threw her on the glass-littered pavement, according to the documents. Wagner was also present for the event, but the court found the claims of excessive use of force against her were found to be unsubstantiated.
You ran on a platform of police reform ... I would like to know what your office is doing to walk the walk.
– Anita Springsteen, defense attorney, to District Attorney Alexis King
The other Lakewood police officers involved in Allen’s arrest are Christoper Alfano, Maximilan Shisler, and Ryan Ware.
Springsteen asked the court to sanction the prosecution for withholding pertinent information regarding the officers prior conduct.
Riley Gonya, the deputy district attorney handling the case, said that since it was a civil matter, the case did not fall within the purview of their investigation. Springsteen disagreed, stating that since the case involved both racial profiling and excessive use of force, she believed it to be relevant to the case and information that should have been provided by the DA’s office as material evidence.
The judge sided with the prosecution, saying that some of the information was already provided in the internal affairs report both parties received during a motions hearing in June.
On Aug. 22 — the day before the trial was set to begin — Springsteen sent King a long email, copying a handful of civil rights lawyers and members of the media, outlining her concerns with how the DA’s office was handling the case.
“There are apparently multiple other cases of claims of excessive force against Agent Clifford,” Springsteen wrote in the letter. “I’d like to know why I have not been provided detailed information on these claims against officers, which is material evidence in a case involving claims of excessive force against Mr. Allen.”
In response, Amanda Gall, a spokesperson for King’s office, said the office “cannot ethically comment further while the case is still pending” but invited Springsteen to set up a time to meet with King to discuss her other concerns.
In Springsteen’s letter, she said she had submitted numerous requests in prior months to the 1st Judicial District Attorney’s Office, asking it to look into a pattern of racial profiling in Lakewood and the excessive use of ketamine by law enforcement — all of which went unanswered, according to Springsteen.
“You ran on a platform of police reform,” Springsteen wrote in her letter to King. “I saw you at a party filled with civil rights attorneys. I would like to know what your office is doing to walk the walk.”
Internal affairs report
Both parties received the full internal affairs report related to Ameer’s case on June 3. The report was provided by Carolyn Wolf, a municipal prosecutor for the city of Lakewood, on numerous CD-ROM disks. Once distributed, the judge allowed a protective order to be placed on the report, meaning that neither party could share the information outside the court.
Newsline was provided a heavily redacted version of the internal affairs report through a public records request on June 24. The complete version was later provided by a spokesperson on July 9, a week after Newsline published a story about Allen’s case. No explanation was given as to why the unredacted version was later provided without another request.
The internal affairs report includes interviews with witnesses conducted by the Lakewood Police Department’s internal affairs unit. The witness statements contain varying, and somewhat conflicting, accounts of how Allen’s arrest unfolded.
For example, a U.S. postal worker, who was not named, said she saw Allen attempt to punch an officer before the arrest was initiated, but no officers reported the same during their internal affairs interviews.
The property manager, Cheri Hall, who called to have Allen’s car towed and then phoned the police when she saw the fight start, said she didn’t think the officers used excessive force against Allen, but added that she didn’t see them take him to the ground because she was holding her phone up to record and the sun was too bright. The apartment complex is owned by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.
Both witnesses present during the time the fight broke out between Allen and the tow truck driver — the postal worker and the property manager — said that Allen was the one to initiate the fight, but Allen states the opposite.
When Allen and Austin were contacted by the internal affairs division for interviews, they declined the division’s requests because they said they didn’t want to speak to officers in the same department that had contributed to their trauma and abuse.
Judge drops mandatory alcohol testing
During the court proceeding on Aug. 23, the judge granted a request from Springsteen to withdraw the requirement that Allen wear a SCRAM unit — an expensive ankle monitor that tests whether a person has consumed alcohol — and do mandatory urine drug tests.
Springsteen tried numerous times to get the judge to reverse the order, stressing that the case had nothing to do with drugs or alcohol and that the buzzing of the unit was causing Allen to lose sleep and employment opportunities. He also was having a hard time finding transportation from Castle Rock to Jefferson County in order to upload the data from the unit, according to Springsteen.
Gonya, with the prosecution, said that Allen should not be rewarded for failure to comply with pretrial supervision and wished to see more compliance before taking away the requirement.
“It is not our goal to inconvenience or hinder Mr. Allen, we simply believe that he needs to be safely managed in the community,” Gonya said.
The judge said that although Allen had not been complying with the testing requirements consistently, his criminal history showed no indication of prior alcohol or drug abuse and that he’s had no new criminal charges filed since the incident in February. She ultimately granted Springsteen’s request.
“It’s a relief, I can’t wait to get rid of this thing,” Allen said, pointing to the SCRAM-unit on his ankle as he walked out of the courtroom.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Aug. 25, 2021 at 2:15 p.m. to correct the spelling of Riley Gonya’s last name. Language related to Latonya Davis’ encounter with police was adjusted to reflect that some of the facts of the case were disputed.
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.