Ameer Allen poses for a portrait in his car parked outside the Jefferson County Court in Golden, Colorado on June 30, 2021 after a brief court appearance. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)
Ameer Allen waited over a year to hear the words that he knew to be true.
A six-person jury found Allen not guilty on April 22 of four misdemeanor charges stemming from a fight that ensued between him and a tow truck driver, which led to Allen’s arrest, in February 2021.
Since the incident, Allen, who is Black, has been vocal that he was in fact the victim in the case and was assaulted by the tow truck driver, then violently arrested without warning by four police officers who wrongly assumed he was the at-fault party. Allen, who said after the verdict that he plans on pursuing a civil lawsuit related to the case, was originally charged with assault, harassment, resisting arrest and obstructing a peace officer.
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The case against Allen was brought not by the tow truck driver but the office of Alexis King, the district attorney of the 1st Judicial District, which encompasses Gilpin and Jefferson counties. King, who took office in January 2021, is the first Democrat and woman to assume the role. King’s office declined multiple interview requests from Newsline, but a spokesperson said via email regarding the jury that they “appreciate their service and respect their verdict.”
“This is a prime example of how District Attorneys will go to any length to avoid admitting they are wrong and to cover up police corruption, racist policing, and excessive force,” said Anita Springsteen, Allen’s lawyer, in a text message after the verdict. “Even if it wastes precious resources better reserved for real crime and for crimes committed by the police themselves.”
Rodney Rice, a 39-year-old resident of Jefferson County who served on the six-person jury, said the unanimous decision to find Allen not guilty on all charges took less than two hours for the jury to deliberate.
“There was nothing really in question about Mr. Allen’s innocence,” Rice said.
Tow truck driver wasn’t hit by defendant
The three-day trial was filled with conflicting accounts of what occurred that day.
Brayan Guzman, a former tow truck driver for Colorado Auto Recovery, testified he was called to remove Allen’s car from the apartment complex after 9 a.m. on Feb. 26, 2021.
Allen said when he saw the tow truck approaching his car, he ran outside to move it. Guzman said the car was already being lifted up when Allen got inside, but Allen disputes that. One picture displayed in court showed Allen’s car lifted up with both car doors open and the windows rolled down — a detail the defense said showed that Allen was in fact in the car.
When Allen remained in his car, the tow truck driver got out of his truck and an argument ensued. Cheri Hall, the property manager of the complex who called to have the car towed, overheard the argument from her office, went outside, then called the police, according to her court testimony.
Hall told the court she saw Allen kick Guzman’s legs out from under him, causing him to fall. But she admitted that she didn’t see or know how Allen got to the ground. Her testimony did not align with Allen or Guzman’s account of the events.
Allen said Guzman punched him, then tackled him to the ground.
Guzman said Allen grabbed the back of his neck and in an effort to move out of the way, they both fell to the ground. Both agreed that Guzman quickly pinned Allen’s hands to the ground to immobilize him. When officers arrived on scene, the two men were separated and patiently waiting for their arrival, according to the police report and court testimony.
During cross examination, Guzman told the court that Allen never hit him. Two of Allen’s four original charges — harassment and assault in the third degree — stemmed from the two men’s physical altercation before police arrived.
Lack of evidence
On the first day of Allen’s three-day trial, which took place at the Jefferson County Court in Golden, the prosecution told jurors that the case lacked evidence.
“This isn’t going to be one of those cases where the people bring to you a whole bunch of physical evidence or anything like that,” said Deputy District Attorney Brynn Chase, who prosecuted the case with Deputy District Attorney Riley Gonya. “So throughout the course of this trial, we just ask that you bear in mind that all of these people mentioned really woke up that Friday, just trying to do their jobs.”
A spokesperson for King’s office said in an email that they brought the case against Allen because “the evidence and statements of independent witnesses provided probable cause to believe that Mr. Allen assaulted Mr. (Brayan) Guzman.”
At the time of the incident, Lakewood police were not using body-worn cameras. A bill signed into law in 2020 requires all Colorado law enforcement officers to use them by July 1, 2023. The department started using them in early 2022, according to a police spokesperson.
I didn’t want him to be lost in the system.
– Anita Springsteen, Ameer Allen’s lawyer
Allen’s ex-girlfriend, Kwana Austin, filmed part of the incident but was restrained by former Officer Todd Clifford because he said she was too close to the officers struggling with Allen. A photo displayed in court, which was taken by Austin’s then-7-year-old daughter from her bedroom window, showed Clifford holding Austin back by her left arm. Clifford has since left the police department to take a job as a court marshal in Lakewood.
Springsteen, who sits on the Lakewood City Council, first heard about Allen’s case after a Jeffco Public Schools counselor wrote to City Council to say that Austin’s three children had been traumatized after witnessing the alleged police brutality from their mother’s bedroom window. Austin was a key witness in Allen’s trial.
Springsteen, who represented Allen pro bono, filed to be his attorney after he was denied a public defender despite receiving unemployment benefits.
“I didn’t want him to be lost in the system,” Springsteen told Newsline in June 2021.
Unclear if defendant was illegally parked
According to Hall, who called to have the car towed, the spot where Allen was parked was reserved for employees and visitors to the leasing office during working hours.
A photo presented in court showed five parking spots in front of the leasing office, but only two parking signs can be seen. Hall said the two signs include hand-drawn arrows pointing in both directions, designating all the parking spots as reserved.
Another photo displayed in court showed a different sign placed on the front of the leasing office door that said, among other things, that visitors can only park in the spots in front of the office.
Hall told the court that Allen’s car had been in the spot for multiple days, and that she placed a warning on the car the day before – a courtesy she said she’s not required to do. Even if Allen wasn’t in a reserved spot, she could still have towed him because there was visible damage to the car, she said.
“The tow company has a contract with us, that they can come on site anytime that they want and if they see cars in disrepair, or with expired license plates, anything of that nature, cars up on jacks, where the tires are flat or (have) been removed,” she added. “They’ll take those cars.”
State lawmakers are attempting this year to put guardrails on how – and when – a tow company can remove a person’s car without their consent.
The complex where Allen and Austin were living is owned by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless — a nonprofit that provides subsidized low-income housing. Springsteen told the court during opening statements that towing is a common occurrence at the complex.
Quick to determine fault
When four officers from the Lakewood Police Department arrived at the apartment complex, Guzman and Allen were already separated. But it only took the officers a few minutes to decide that Allen was at fault in the altercation, according to court testimony, despite him expressing the opposite.
When Clifford started talking to Allen, he told the court Allen’s demeanor was calm and cordial. Clifford first asked Allen for a form of identification, which he didn’t have. He then requested his full name, which he gave. When Clifford asked for his birthdate, Allen hesitated.
During an interview in 2021, Allen told Newsline that he was confused why he was being questioned in this way if he was the victim.
Officer Ryan Ware, who was talking with the property owner during this time, overheard the exchange and decided that Allen’s behavior of not answering the officer’s question had become an officer safety concern and that he had “reasonable suspicion” that constituted detaining him, according to his testimony in court.
Ware, who has since left the department, then gave a nonverbal signal to Clifford before grabbing Allen’s wrist and telling him he was being detained. He told the court that Allen “tightened up” and wouldn’t let the officers put his arms behind his back.
“He wasn’t trying to fight us at the time, just not cooperating with our commands,” Ware said during his testimony.
Ware then grabbed Allen from behind and pulled him backwards onto the ground. Ware testified that he hit Allen “two to three times” in the ribcage in order to “soften him up” and threatened to use his Taser if Allen didn’t comply with commands. Two more officers, Christopher Alfano and Maximilian Shisler, were also physically involved in Allen’s arrest.
Officers cleared of wrongdoing
Allen testified during his trial that he was not resisting arrest, but was curled in the fetal position trying to protect himself after the officer slammed him to the ground.
During cross examination, Allen’s lawyer questioned Ware as to why he didn’t try to de-escalate the situation before resorting to physical force, or why Allen wasn’t given the chance to put his hands together to be cuffed before he made contact with him.
Once the officers put handcuffs on Allen, an officer had to bring a police cruiser closer because Allen was having difficulty walking on his own. Multiple witnesses said they heard Allen complaining of an injured back, and that he had recently had surgery. Allen was brought by ambulance to two nearby hospitals, then released to jail.
After Allen was taken away by ambulance, Guzman towed his car and didn’t seek medical attention.
The officers testified that they needed to use physical force to arrest Allen because he was “very strong” and collectively they couldn’t get his hands together to handcuff him. Guzman testified that he and Allen were the same size and that Guzman was able to pin him to the ground in a matter of seconds. Allen said he weighs 190 pounds — less than the average adult male — and is 5 feet 11 inches tall.
An internal affairs investigation into the use of force in Allen’s arrest cleared the officers involved of wrongdoing. But the investigation didn’t include interviews with Allen or Austin, who told Newsline in 2021 that they declined the interview because they didn’t want to speak with the same officers who had caused them harm.
The complete and unredacted internal affairs report was put under a protective order in June 2021 by Carolyn Wolf, a municipal prosecutor for the City of Lakewood, meaning neither the defense or prosecution could share the information outside the court.
Alleged racial bias
Aya Gruber, a professor of law at the University of Colorado Boulder who wasn’t involved in the case, said that the officers’ misperception of Allen’s strength and the speed in which they determined he was the at-fault party is likely an indication of racial bias.
Extensive research shows how racial bias can cloud a person’s perception of who the guilty party is, especially law enforcement officers who have a heightened awareness of criminal behavior and often wrongly associate Black people with crime, according to Gruber. She added that research shows that Black people, especially young boys and girls, are frequently misperceived as being older, taller, stronger and more impervious to pain by law enforcement and medical professionals.
Gruber, who is a former public defender, said that misdemeanor assault charges typically don’t constitute a person being put under arrest right away, unless the case involves domestic violence. She added that it’s also unclear whether Allen’s refusal to give his birth date would constitute obstruction of justice or probable cause.
“This unnecessary violence and the charges that they slapped on this guy and injured him, even though he had surgery and all that, that wasn’t in the name of any of us, for what we pay our tax money for,” Gruber said. “That was in the name of those officers, not letting a person that they wanted to give them information, refuse. And so that should be shocking to the conscience of anybody.”
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