Two years ago, Brady Mistic of Colorado was approached by a pair of police officers, who’d followed him into a parking lot after he allegedly ran a stop sign.
Mistic, then 24, did not comply with the officers’ demands. He had no idea what they were saying to him, according to his attorney, because he is deaf in both ears and does not lip-read, communicating primarily through American Sign Language.
The subsequent encounter would lead to Mistic suing the officers, the city of Idaho Springs and the Clear Creek County Board of Commissioners.
Mistic argues in his lawsuit, filed in federal court this month, that Officers Nicholas Hanning and Ellie Summers violated his civil rights when they violently arrested him. He is seeking compensation for physical and emotional harm, as well as pain and suffering.
Mistic exited his car around 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 17, 2019, and was heading toward a laundromat when he was suddenly “blinded by police vehicle lights and/or a spotlight shone by the officers,” according to the lawsuit.
After startling him with their lights, the officers ordered Mistic to get back into his car.
“He had no idea what was happening, what the police were doing, or if the officers’ presence had anything to do with him,” the suit says.
Mistic stood still as the officers got out of their vehicle and quickly approached, the suit says.
“Within 7 seconds of exiting their vehicle, without looking or listening to assess the situation, and without utilizing any reasonable attempts at communication, the officers went hands-on and used force on Mr. Mistic,” Raymond Bryant, Mistic’s lawyer, told HuffPost via email. “Reasonable police officers should always de-escalate instead of escalate circumstances so that force is not used unless absolutely necessary. But these were not reasonable officers.”
Hanning threw Mistic to the ground, “bashing Mr. Mistic’s head into the concrete,” according to the lawsuit.
In body camera video footage that Bryant provided to HuffPost, the cruiser can be seen driving into the laundromat’s parking lot. As the officers park, Summers yells to Mistic to “sit back in your car.” When he doesn’t obey, Hanning immediately exits the vehicle, yelling, “Who do you think you are?”
Details from the initial altercation between Mistic and Hanning are unclear in the footage. But after a gap in the video where the action is not visible, you can see Mistic’s fingers once he’s been forced to the ground. In the background, Summers can be heard shouting: “Arms behind your back right now or I’m going to tase you!”
Without hesitating, Hanning responds: “Tase him!”
As Mistic is being shocked with a stun gun, he cries out “No ears!” in an attempt to communicate to the officers that he is deaf. The officers then use the stun gun on him again.
The Idaho Springs Police Department defended the officers’ actions in a statement, saying that Mistic “immediately got out of his vehicle” and “quickly“ approached a “clearly marked patrol car” that had its emergency lights activated.
“The officers gave verbal commands for Mr. Mistic to get back in his vehicle,” the statement says. “It was later determined Mr. Mistic was deaf, but this fact was not known to the officers during the initial encounter.”
According to the body cam footage, though, it seems the officers realized Mistic was deaf fairly quickly. Aside from Mistic crying out “no ears,” there also seems to be an exchange between Summers and Mistic shortly after he’s been handcuffed and is sitting on the ground.
“I’m deaf,” Mistic clearly verbalizes to the officers. A female voice, presumably Summers, replies: “You’re deaf?”
The lawsuit also says that Summers told officers and emergency medical services who later arrived on the scene that Mistic was deaf.
But the suit says Mistic was never provided with an ASL interpreter, or a pen and paper, in order to communicate or find out why he was being arrested — a decision that “further humiliated and degraded Mr. Mistic for being deaf.”
The Idaho Springs Police Department claims in its statement that Hanning suffered a broken leg because of Mistic’s “resistive actions” when Hanning initially approached and used force on Mistic.
“Officers attempted to gain control of Mr. Mistic by placing him into handcuffs due to his unexplained actions,” the police statement says. “Mr. Mistic resisted the officers, and a physical altercation took place.”
Bryant provided HuffPost with a supplemental police report written by Hanning. This report says that after Hanning grabbed Mistic by the wrist, Mistic “pulled away by punching his hand away from my grasp.” Hanning writes that he attempted to grab Mistic from behind to “stop his escape,” and that as he tried to take Mistic to the ground, he “fell backwards in a right twisting motion striking my head and my vision went black for a split second.” Hanning implies this is what caused his leg injury.
“You can see from the reports that the officers do not allege that Mr. Mistic hit, kicked, punched, or otherwise struck the officers,” Bryant told HuffPost, noting that “Hanning’s creative use of the phrase ‘pulled away by punching his hand away from my grasp’ is an obvious attempt to mislead.”
Bryant said the worst allegation in the report is that Mistic pulled away when the officers grabbed at him without explanation.
“This is not sufficient for resisting arrest or assault on a police officer under Colorado law,” Bryant said.
Mistic was charged with second-degree assault on a police officer and resisting arrest, as the lawsuit and police report both note.
Bryant told HuffPost that “even if there was a legitimate misunderstanding regarding his disability early-on,” the officers “crossed the line of being ignorant to being cruel once they understood that he was deaf and could not possibly have had the knowledge or intent necessary to ‘resist arrest’ or ‘assault a police officer’ under the circumstances.”
Mistic was taken to the Clear Creek County jail, where he was incarcerated for four months and further denied an interpreter or assistive technology, and had difficulty communicating with jail staff.
“Mr. Mistic had no other choice but to remain in custody because he could not reach persons outside of the facility to assist him,” the lawsuit says.
HuffPost reached out to the Clear Creek County Board of Commissioners for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.
The charges against Mistic were eventually dismissed, and he was released, the lawsuit says.
Police said in their statement that the district attorney’s office for Colorado’s 5th Judicial District let Mistic participate in a diversion program in lieu of facing formal charges.
Hanning was fired from the police force in July after he was charged with third-degree assault in an unrelated incident, The Associated Press reports. He allegedly used his stun gun on a 75-year-old man without warning. As of July, Summers was still an officer with the Idaho Springs police.