Report states Basalt cops did no wrong
September 3, 2009
BASALT – A Basalt police investigation of a confrontation between officers and a patron of a bar concluded that the patron was to blame for the incident.
The report prepared by Basalt Sgt. Roderick O’Connor said Basalt officer Brian Lemke and Sgt. Stu Curry “acted in a reasonable manner” during the Aug. 15 incident at the Basalt Bistro.
O’Connor was assigned to investigate the incident after Basalt resident Ian Gray, 43, filed a complaint with Basalt Police Chief Keith Ikeda that he was treated in an inappropriate way by Lemke early on the morning of Aug. 15.
“My stance remains the same – they were completely out of line,” said Gray.
He said the conclusion of Basalt’s investigation of an incident involving its own officers came as no surprise. “There’s no way I would see them admitting fault,” he said.
Ikeda said it is standard procedure for police departments to handle complaints about inappropriate behavior by its officers in-house. When allegations involve criminal behavior, departments seek outside investigations, he said.
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Gray sought a public apology from the department. The report contended one isn’t warranted.
The incident occurred while Gray was drinking with a friend at the Bistro at about 12:45 a.m. Lemke, Curry and officer Michael Taylor walked through the bar on routine patrol.
Gray’s friend allegedly started shouting obscenities at Curry over an arrest of another man made sometime in the past. After the two men jawed for a while, Curry decided to de-escalate the situation by exiting the bar. He and Taylor left. Lemke, who had been in a different part of the bar, trailed them.
The cops and Gray agree the officers were being jeered by some patrons as they departed. Gray said he “chimed in” by saying “don’t let the door hit you in the ass” as Lemke passed.
Gray and the police differ on whether Gray was swearing at the officers in the bar.
After the officers conferred outside the bar, Lemke returned inside and told Gray he had to leave. Gray refused and demanded to know what he had done wrong. Lemke cuffed him and took him to the ground. Gray grabbed his barstool and refused to let go or stand up.
O’Connor’s report said Lemke told Gray he was under arrest for disorderly conduct but that Gray wouldn’t cooperate. “Gray continued to resist arrest by refusing to stand up and comply with Lemke’s orders,” the report said.
Gray said he was never arrested or told why he must leave the bar. He insisted he did nothing wrong. Lemke overreacted by aggressively dragging him off his barstool, then “pummeling” his forearms while trying to get him to let go of the barstool, Gray said.
O’Connor said Lemke used his training to apply pressure to certain parts of Gray’s body to get him to release the stool.
From Gray’s perspective, he exercised his right to free speech. His actions didn’t warrant the police response, he said.
Curry told O’Connor that he felt “the whole bar turned against” the police during the event. The standoff ended when Curry asked Gray’s friend to convince Gray to go outside. The handcuffs were removed from Gray, and both men were told they could leave but warned they could face a citation later for disorderly conduct.
After reviewing statements from the officers, Gray, other witnesses and reviewing a poorly lit video taken from a cell phone, O’Connor reached his conclusions.
“[Gray’s friend] and Gray were intoxicated, conducting themselves in a disorderly manner, ignored direct orders from law enforcement, and Gray resisted arrest,” the report said. “They continually cross boundaries with the officers that would not be expected from a reasonable person.
“Gray and [his friend] were the cause of these problems, not the police,” the report continued. “The officers’ actions, especially Officer Lemke’s, were appropriate and the level of force used was reasonable to de-escalate the situation and remove Gray from the bar.”
O’Connor’s report said the officers had to take action against Gray for the sake of credibility.
“If law enforcement excuses and turns its back on bad behavior and walks away, then there will be more of this kind of behavior as the community gets the message that it is OK to be disorderly, etc.,” the report said. “The second repercussion of law enforcement turning their backs on bad behavior is that the citizens lose their faith in police protection.”
The incident centered around the larger issue of community policing and the presence of cops in bars. Gray said he and his friend felt the officers lingered too long in the Bistro, and other patrons agreed.
O’Connor addressed that underlying issue in his report. “The police have a right to be in the bars,” he wrote. The Bistro owners welcome the police presence, he added.
“Their presence would not have been an issue or problem for a reasonable person enjoying dinner or cocktails, nor was it for the majority at the Basalt Bistro,” O’Connor wrote. And police will take action against inappropriate behavior, whether it is reported to them or witnessed by them.
“It was unacceptable behavior on Gray’s and [his friend’s] part that brought us to this point, not the presence of the police,” O’Connor wrote.