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Lawsuit accuses Denver police of unlawfully arresting man after traffic crash

DENVER — A lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court accuses Denver police of using force while unlawfully arresting a man and detaining him in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Keilon Hill names Denver Police Department Cpl. Bart Stark and officers Thomas Ludwig and Gary Yampolsky, as well as the City and County of Denver. All three officers’ body cameras recorded portions of the encounter.

“The facts in this case present a veritable cornucopia of constitutional torts, as though the Denver Police Department (“DPD”) were attempting to violate as many of Plaintiff Keilon Hill’s constitutional rights as possible in a single encounter,” the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, the arrest happened after Hill, then 25, was involved in a minor traffic crash on Interstate 25 on April 27, 2020. Hill called 911 to report the crash. When Ludwig arrived, he interviewed the driver and passenger of the other car first, according to the lawsuit. The driver and passenger, who were both white, said that Hill, who is Black, had caused the accident, and described him as hostile and aggressive, according to the suit.

The lawsuit says Ludwig described the crash and Hill’s demeanor to Yampolsky without speaking to Hill first. Based only on his initial glance at Hill, Ludwig told Yampolsky that Hill “looks like a turd,” according to the lawsuit. The officers’ interaction was captured on body camera footage.

While Hill was being checked for injuries in an ambulance, Ludwig opened Hill’s car door and began searching the car, according to the lawsuit, which said there was nothing in plain view that would suggest criminal activity, and that Ludwig had no reason to suspect Hill of any crime.

When Hill got out of the ambulance and saw Ludwig rummaging through his car while holding a pad of paper, Hill walked toward him and said, “Hey, why are you in my car? That’s not a warrant to search my car,” according to the suit.

Ludwig said “I smelled marijuana. That’s why I’m in your car,” according to the suit. Ludwig later justified the search by saying that he “wanted to see if Mr. Hill was intoxicated,” according to the suit.

Ludwig’s body camera captured Hill holding up his phone and pointing his finger at Ludwig, responding, “That’s not okay for you to search my car.”

Ludwig and Yampolsky then pushed Hill against the hood of his car and handcuffed him, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit says even though Hill did not resist, the officers used “substantial force” during the arrest.

“The disproportionate degree of force used against Mr. Hill reflects Officer Ludwig and Yampolsky’s anger that Mr. Hill had criticized Officer Ludwig’s unlawful search,” the suit says.

When Hill asked why he was being arrested, Yampolsky responded by asking Hill why he was “stepping to the cops” and told Hill he was “being an a–hole,” according to the suit.

When Hill asked the same question again, Yampolsky told him, “We’ll let you know in a few here, okay?” according to the lawsuit.

Stark arrived sometime after Ludwig and Yampolsky put Hill in the back of a patrol car, according to the suit. He asked Hill whether Ludwig and Yampolsky injured him during the arrest. Hill said it was hard for him to determine if he was injured because he needed to be examined by a doctor. Stark then said, “If you say that you have injuries, I’m going to do something different, okay? If you say that you don’t have any injuries, then that means that nothing has happened, and I can let you drive away.”

Hill then repeated several times that he could not determine whether he was injured.

Hill was taken to the Denver jail, where he was held for nearly 24 hours before being released on bond, the suit says. He was charged with interference with police authority, a violation of city code. After he pleaded not guilty, the city attorney moved to dismiss the charge, which the court did, according to the suit.

Two days after being released from jail, Hill went to the hospital for a medical exam. He was diagnosed with a closed head injury, cervical strain, strain of the thoracic region, a right shoulder injury and paresthesia of his right upper limb, according to the suit.

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