The city of Colorado Springs has had to fork over $23,500 to a man who was wrongfully arrested last summer for openly carrying a firearm in a city park. Arresting officers claimed that the man was in violation of the law, but it turned out that the law they were referring to had been repealed nearly a full decade ago.
According to a local NBC affiliate, James Sorensen and his partner were leaving PrideFest at Acacia Park in Colorado Springs on July 21, 2012, the day following the Aurora theater shooting, when an officer stopped and questioned Sorensen for openly carrying a .40-caliber handgun on his hip.
The conversation quickly turned into a heated debate and Sorensen was detained and eventually arrested. Sorensen’s partner videotaped 13 minutes of the ordeal and posted it to YouTube, where it’s received nearly 165,000 views.
Sorensen repeatedly questioned the officers about why he was being detained, but they offered him no answers. He also asked them to show him a sign posted in or near the park which prohibited the carrying of firearms, but they could show him no such sign because none existed. One officer even responded to Sorensen’s request to see a sign by saying, “Sir, ignorance of the law is not an affirmative defense.”
But apparently the officer’s statement only referred to Sorensen and not the officers themselves, because as it turns out, the officers were actually the ones suffering from “ignorance of the law.”
The state law which prohibited guns in parks had actually been repealed in 2003. However, according to police spokeswoman Barbara Miller, the officers were not the ones to blame, but rather their outdated 40-page “cheat sheet” on local laws. While being detained, Sorensen even grabbed his cell phone and called the police department in an attempt to get a “real officer” on the scene who actually knew the law, but he was unsuccessful.
Following the arrest last year, Sorensen, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, stated, “I knew the law. I knew that it was legal for me to carry. My rights were trampled on.” He even tried to warn the police that their actions were in violation of the law, to which an officer suggested he “hire an attorney.”
Sorensen did just that and received nearly $24,000 because of it.
Sorensen accused the officers involved of unlawful arrest, unreasonable search and seizure, unreasonable violation of speech rights, unreasonable violation of the right to bear arms, failure to train and failure to supervise. He claims too that he was never read his Miranda Rights.
Moments before Sorensen was disarmed and arrested, one officer warned, “You’re about to get the shit kicked out of you,” which was caught on the 13-minute video.
The city eventually settled with Sorensen, but as part of the settlement Sorensen must keep the terms of the agreement confidential. Local media were only able to obtain the monetary amount through an open records request.
However, just because the city paid up doesn’t necessarily mean that the officers were deemed to be in the wrong. In fact, according to the settlement, it “does not constitute an admission by City Defendants of any liability, wrongdoing, or violation of any law. Further, City Defendants expressly deny any wrongdoing of any kind whatsoever in its actions and dealings with Plaintiff.”
Nonetheless, Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey requested an internal review following the incident and in a statement released four months later admitted, “Policy violations were discovered and appropriate administrative action was taken.”
In addition, the police department “made updates to reference guides used and instituted more periodic reviews of these documents” to ensure that an incident like this would not occur again.