A woman arrested in 2020 in Colorado Springs while protesting the death of George Floyd has filed a federal lawsuit accusing five local police officers of using excessive force after they repeatedly deployed pepper spray and a fogging device in her face as she stood with her arms raised.
In the lawsuit filed Tuesday against the officers and the city, Tara Hadam, 26, said she was peacefully protesting in front of police headquarters when she was repeatedly pepper sprayed in the face and arrested on false charges by the five officers. One of those officers, Christopher Pryor, later called Black Lives Matter a terrorist group and likened it to the Ku Klux Klan during court testimony.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, is one of the latest legal actions accusing Colorado police officers of using indiscriminate force during protests that began in Minneapolis and swiftly spread across the nation.
While attending the demonstration, Hadam was standing with her arms held above her head when Pryor deployed pepper spray into her face four times, making it impossible to see and difficult to breathe, the lawsuit states.
Hadam said in the 25-page complaint that Officers Dale Peterson and Blake Evenson put her in a “bear hug” and lifted her off the ground and took her away before handcuffing her. Then, Officer David Brockman sprayed a fogging device, designed to disperse large crowds, directly in Hadam’s face in point-blank range.
She was arrested and charged with resisting arrest and obstructing government operations, according to the lawsuit, which names Sgt. Jason Reeser as the officer who authorized Hadam’s arrest. A jury later acquitted her of the charges in September 2021.
During a court hearing for Hadam’s criminal case, Pryor said he believed that the Black Lives Matter movement was “racist” and “anti-cop” and “no better than the KKK,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit contends that the officers’ “cavalier use of force reveals an out-of-control law enforcement agency whose officers were ready and eager to indiscriminately deploy their weapons against peaceful protesters.”
The officers’ confrontation with Hadam was recorded and aired on a local TV station and showed that Hadam did not lunge toward the officers, stood on the correct side of the barricades and did not brandish a weapon, according to the lawsuit.
The officers’ body cameras were not turned on during the encounter, according to Hadam’s attorney, Adam Frank. It’s unclear why the cameras were not activated and a police spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.
“This was an egregious use of excessive force and it’s a case that really shows the power of the media because a big part of the reason we can prove what happened is because the news media was on the ground documenting what was happening,” Frank said.
“Ms. Hadam was standing there with her hands held high in the air, clearly presenting no threat to anyone and these officers again and again and again spray her right in the face,” he said. “It’s shocking, it’s hard to watch and I look forward to getting justice for (her).”
Evenson is one of two officers involved in the 2019 deadly shooting of 19-year-old De’Von Bailey as he fled with a gun in his pocket in Colorado Springs. A grand jury determined the officers were justified when they shot him three times in the back and once in the arm after confronting him about a reported robbery. In February, the Colorado Springs City Council approved a nearly $3 million wrongful death settlement with Bailey’s estate. Both Mayor John Suthers and a police spokesman said the city’s payment was not an indication of wrongdoing by the officers and was agreed upon to avoid a costly jury trial.
In February, the city of Colorado Springs paid $175,000 to settle a lawsuit accusing an officer of ambushing a woman and a friend who participated in a protest against racial injustice. The officer, who was previously disciplined by the police department for saying “Kill them all” during a livestream of a protest, tackled them without warning and slammed the woman to the ground, causing her head to bounce off the pavement, according to the lawsuit.
The settlement was among a string of payments made by cities to resolve claims of police misconduct during the protests in the aftermath of Floyd’s killing.
In March, a federal jury found Denver police used excessive force against protesters, violating their constitutional rights. The jury ordered the city to pay $14 million in damages to a group of 12 who sued.
Denver City Council also approved a $500,000 settlement that month to settle a lawsuit filed by a college student who was shot in the head with a 40mm projectile fired by a Denver police officer. The man, who was wearing a gas mask when he was hit, said a piece of glass became stuck in his eyelid and though his eyesight was not affected, he needed several stitches on his forehead, nose and eyelid, the Denver Gazette reported.