A screen shot posted to Facebook shows police talking to Sammie Lawrence, a black man who was arrested after recording police while holding his cane. Facebook.com / SAFEboco
The attorney for Sammie Lawrence, the black man arrested while filming an interaction between officers and some homeless people in April, decried the independent review that backed the Boulder Police Department decision not to review the case as one-sided and incomplete.
The independent review of the arrest of Lawrence by Boulder police officer Waylon Lolotai was released Tuesday and conducted by former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer and two consultants with Bluestone Investigative and Risk Solutions at the request of Boulder City Council.
In the report, Troyer concluded “both (Boulder Police Department’s) supervisory review and its decision not to open a (Professional Standards Unit) investigation into Mr. Lawrence’s arrest on April 5, 2019 were proper.”
The independent review examined video footage of the arrest and interviewed Boulder police personnel involved in the decision not to initiate the internal investigation. However, because Lawrence’s criminal case is ongoing, the review did not look into the underlying allegations relating to the arrest or include interviews with witnesses.
But Lawrence’s attorney, Mari Newman, said that failure to interview witnesses or even Lawrence himself was one of the numerous ways in which the review came up short.
“It’s disappointing, but not at all surprising,” Newman said. “From the beginning, this so-called ‘independent investigation’ was designed to exonerate the Boulder Police Department, so of course that’s exactly what it did.”
According to police reports, Lolotai was doing extra patrols on April 5 near the Mapleton Ball Fields near 30th Street and Mapleton Avenue at the request of Boulder police Chief Greg Testa when he responded to a 911 call for a large number of homeless people in the area littering, smoking marijuana and disturbing people.
Lolotai activated his body-worn camera and began talking to three homeless individuals seated by a concession building when Lawrence approached and began filming the incident.
According to the report, Lawrence had a “large wooden staff” in his hand, and Lolotai asked Lawrence several times to step back or put the staff down.
When two other officers arrived, one of them also asked Lawrence to move back, while Lolotai again told Lawrence to put down the staff. According to the report, Lolotai went to place Lawrence in handcuffs, and Lawrence pulled away and resisted. Lolotai attempted to use two police-trained techniques, a knee strike and an arm bar, before then tackling Lawrence to the ground and cuffing him.
Lolotai reported the incident to his supervisor, who reviewed the footage and determined the arrest and use of force were lawful. According to a report, Testa began receiving complaints about the incident from community members later that night, and Testa and other command staff reviewed the report and footage of the incident.
On April 8, they agreed Lolotai’s conduct did not violate any Boulder police policies and thus did not warrant any internal investigation.
Troyer in his independent review said Testa and the police department followed protocol in reaching their conclusion, which was “supported by the facts recorded on video, by BPD policy, and by law,” the report reads.
But Newman pointed out the report failed to mention the “staff” was Lawrence’s walking stick and noted he was calmly standing about 10 feet from Lolotai.
“He does absolutely nothing to provoke Officer Lolotai to run over and body slam and tackle him,” Newman said.
Newman pointed out Lolotai has been the subject of other investigations regarding possible use of excessive force. He is currently the subject of a lawsuit filed by a woman who said Lolotai shoved her while she was filming him, and Denver’s Fox31 also published a story on May 1 reporting Lolotai had been under investigation for excessive force at his former job with the Denver County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s another case of Boulder covering up excessive force, racial profiling and a violation of a resident’s First Amendment right to record police,” Newman said.
The independent review of the arrest followed another high-profile Boulder police interaction with a black man in March, which Troyer also reviewed. In that case, Troyer also found Boulder police followed protocol and upheld their findings.