On a September night almost four years ago, a retired teacher was watching TV in his northeast Denver home when three Denver Police Department officers banged on his door.
The officers told Elroy Lee, then 76, that a tracking device was showing a stolen cellphone was inside his house. Lee insisted no stolen phone was in the house and agreed to a search.
But when he tried to follow police inside, Officer Choice Johnson grabbed Lee's shoulder, twisted him around and then grabbed his hand and bent his fingers backward, according to a civil rights lawsuit complaint in U.S. District Court in Denver.
Lee was handcuffed and was taken to the street while neighbors watched from their windows.
On Monday, Lee will ask a federal jury to award an unspecified amount of damages to him as he makes the case that Johnson and Officers David Ryan and Randall Krouse violated his civil rights by using excessive force and for making a false arrest. The trial is expected to last a week.
City Attorney Scott Martinez said he could not comment on pending litigation, especially on the eve of a trial, "in respect of the judicial process."
Johnson is the subject of another pending federal lawsuit in a case that resulted in a 30-day suspension for using excessive force against a man while working an off-duty security detail outside a LoDo bar.
Last week, Johnson's suspension was upheld by Denver's Civil Service Commission after a hearing officer had said the Department of Safety had wrongly punished him.
Johnson is expected to testify during the trial, said David Lane, a Denver civil rights attorney who is representing Lee.
In the Lee case, no stolen cellphone was found in his home. After officers searched the house, the handcuffs were removed and he was allowed to go back inside, the lawsuit said.
But the physical pain of tight handcuffs and the public embarrassment of being detained on a sidewalk were done, Lane said. The physical force and the handcuffs caused permanent damage to Lee's arm.
Lee is a military veteran and a retired Denver Public Schools teacher, Lane said.
Lee "felt extremely humiliated for being paraded around in public by law enforcement while handcuffed," the lawsuit said.
Lee was handcuffed for about 15 minutes, the lawsuit said. When the handcuffs were removed, bloody spots were visible because they had been so tight.
No criminal charges were filed against him.
Lee filed an internal complaint against the officers, but they were not punished.
Lee's lawsuit says that Johnson had a dozen excessive force complaints against him. By the time Johnson was named as a defendant in the January lawsuit, that number had risen to 18.
But Lane said the case is one more example of the city failing to take seriously the complaints against officers.
"Denver tolerates police brutality," he said.
Pictured below: Elroy Lee