Couple sues police, health workers
Denver Broncos seasonticket holder Michael Cornell had just watched a 3024 comeback overtime victory of his team against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots last season when Denver police took issue with his tipsy behavior.
Although the officers didn’t charge either him or his girlfriend, Lauren Rodriguez, with a crime, they detained them and hauled them over to the Denver CARES detox center.
Now the couple is suing police and health care workers, including police Chief Robert White and Dr. Bill Burman, chief executive officer of Denver Health Medical Center, claiming police and care workers colluded to violate their due process rights by detaining them illegally, the civil lawsuit filed Tuesday by Denver attorney Elisabeth Owen says. Cornell also accuses police of excessive force by allegedly bashing his head against a squad car.
Denver police and Denver CARES staff “detained Mr. Cornell and Ms. Rodriguez as part of their policy and custom of unlawfully committing intoxicated individuals who do not pose a threat to themselves or others to the Denver CARES facility,” the lawsuit says.
Cornell and Rodriguez are seeking “nominal” compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys fees against the police department and Denver CARES. They also want a judicial order prohibiting defendants from arresting them without adequate due process protections.
Denver police have not yet been served with the lawsuit, Doug Schepman, Denver police spokesman said in a news release.
“The department will gladly address any public concerns regarding this matter when appropriate,” Schepman wrote.
The lawsuit says that in order to offset the cost of providing detoxification and drug and alcohol treatment to indigents including homeless people, Denver police and Denver CARES follow a policy in which they illegally round up intoxicated people “they believe have the means to pay” and haul them to the detox center. Police detain people “en masse” who are “intoxicated legally” but not dangerous in Lower Downtown on weekend nights and Denver sports venues, the lawsuit says.
But in doing so, the city is violating Colorado’s emergency commitment statute in part because they do not have probable cause to detain them under the guise of consensual medical treatment. the lawsuit says.
“Denver CARES treatment under these circumstances is anything but consensual. First, if an individual is truly so intoxicated that he cannot be at home or in the community, he cannot lawfully consent to medical treatment. Second, Denver CARES commitments are made under threat of arrest for nonconsent, thereby rendering consent to be made under duress,” the lawsuit says.
On Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015, as they were leaving Sports Authority Field at Mile High, officers asked Cornell how intoxicated he was, the lawsuit says. Cornell admitted that he had been drinking but added that he was not driving home.
The officers handcuffed him and slammed his head against the side of their patrol car, the lawsuit says.
Police took Cornell and Rodriguez to the detox center at 1155 Cherokee St., while threatening to arrest them if they did not cooperate. Although Cornell refused services, staff placed him in a dormitory room with cots and Gatorade at 11:15 p.m., the lawsuit says. Cornell and Rodriguez were held until the following morning and forced to pay $325 for treatment, the lawsuit says.