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Fort Collins officer claims he is not accountable for excessive force

On Behalf of | Oct 4, 2022 | Criminal Law, Current Topics in the News |

A Fort Collins officer was caught on video in 2017 using a “rowing arm takedown” on unarmed woman Michaella Lynn Surat. In doing so, he smashed the 22-year-old female college student face-first into the concrete outside a bar. Officer Randall Klamser maintains his innocence, justifying his actions by pointing out that the woman resisted arrest. He also claims qualified immunity, which protects government employees from civil liability unless they very clearly violate the citizen’s rights.

The charges

Surat was charged with third-degree assault and obstructing a peace officer. She posted $1,750 in bond. In 2018, she was convicted by a Larimer County jury of resisting arrest and obstruction, which are both misdemeanors. She was sentenced to probation and community service.

The lawsuit

While Surat acknowledged that she was guilty of resisting arrest, she argues that Klamser used an unnecessary amount of violent force and filed a civil suit against him. In light of the evidence, a lower court judge ruled that Klamser would proceed to a jury trial for his actions.

This decision prompted the officer to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. A three-judge appellate panel acknowledged that the plaintiff did resist arrest when he forced her to the ground. Still, it pointed out that even law enforcement can and should show restraint when dealing with unruly citizens, particularly when it is not life-threatening.

The incident

Surat was out celebrating her birthday at a bar with her boyfriend. The officers were dispatched because of the boyfriend’s actions in the bar. The officer’s body camera captures them at the scene, taking the couple outside. As Klamser’s partner spoke with the boyfriend, Klamser walked outside with Surat. She brushed Klamser’s arm while reaching for her boyfriend as she left. Klamser told Surat to keep walking and grabbed her arm. Surat then cursed at Klamser, telling him not to touch her. He responded by telling her she was under arrest.

Still holding her in a wristlock, Klamser warned her that he would throw her to the ground if she tried to pry his fingers off her arm. Klamser then executed the rowing arm takedown on a 115-pound woman in heels who was half his size. The entire incident occurred within 40 seconds, and a bystander’s video of the takedown quickly went viral, making national news.

Can a guilty person seek justice?

The lower court judge ruled that the plaintiff could seek damages, and the Circuit Court upheld that decision, and Klamser could be liable for damages caused as well as legal costs accrued. While this is a civil case, it illustrates that officers make mistakes and must respect individual suspects’ rights regardless of the suspect’s actions or guilt. The criminal court found Surat guilty of two misdemeanors, but it is clear from the video that the officer used excessive force.