A total of 14 drivers in Aurora, Colorado have received a settlement of $325,000 for a 2012 incident, in which local police decided to detain everyone within an intersection at gunpoint in order to search for a bank robbery suspect. Those motorists had filed a lawsuit in 2014 based on violations of their Fourth Amendment rights during the detention.
After the bank robbery, police had used a tracker within the stolen money to determine that the robber, Christian Paetsch was at the intersection. However, the tracker wasn’t precise enough to pinpoint which car he was in. In the process of the detention, over two dozen people, including children, were forced out of their cars at gunpoint, some of them were verbally berated and even physically abused. Several of them are reported to have suffered medical episodes as a result, including a woman who suffered a panic attack and a seven year old child who had an asthma attack. Neither were given any assistance by the police officers detaining them.
Even after Paetsch had been identified as the robber and arrested, those 28 people were held in handcuffs, threatened with arrest, and subjected to illegal searches of their bodies and vehicles. Prior to being released, they were all forced under duress to sign forms stating that they had consented to the search. (Read the PDF containing the full court documents here: Aurora Colorado Mass Detention Lawsuit Complaint and Jury Demand)
Via the Denver Post:
The incident occurred on June 2, 2012, at the intersection of Iliff Avenue and Buckley Road after Christian Paetsch robbed a Wells Fargo bank branch and police used GPS technology to home in on a tracking device that was hidden in the stolen money. The tracking technology, however, wasn’t precise enough to allow officers to determine which vehicle contained the robber.
Police decided to surround 19 vehicles — containing 28 occupants — stopped at a red light at the intersection in an effort to find the suspect, demanding that “all vehicle occupants hold their arms up and outside of their vehicle windows,” according to the suit.
“They brandished ballistic shields and pointed assault rifles directly at innocent citizens, including children under ten years old. Officers with police dogs were at the ready,” the suit reads. “No one was free to leave.”
Some motorists were patted down, handcuffed and made to sit on the side of the road while police searched their cars.
“This all occurred despite the fact that the officers had removed and handcuffed a single individual — Christian Paetsch — from his vehicle just 30 minutes after the initial stop,” the lawsuit reads.
Essentially, the Aurora police decided that once they already had everyone at their mercy (quite literally, based on the descriptions of the hostility involved in the detentions) and they had already found the suspect, they might as well go on a fishing expedition and see what else they could subject them to. I have little doubt that they were hoping to generate a little revenue in the process, as well.