Colorado Springs, CO

Black Colorado Springs church sues city, police, DA

David Heitz

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A Colorado Springs church and some of its members have sued the City of Colorado Springs, the police chief, and the El Paso County district attorney.

Colorado Springs Fellowship Church and members Eric Jenkins, William Williams, Matthew Brown, Willie Pee, Torri Lopez, Clifford Stewart, Michelle Harris, and Yolanda Banks Walker all are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court.

Defendants include the city and the police department as well as Police Chief Vince Niski, detective Brian Corrado and Michael Allen, district attorney.

The church members say they are being discriminated against by the city because they are black. The lawsuit stems from an attempted eviction. The church had been helping a family and rented them an apartment filled with furniture owned by the church. When church members learned the family had a firearm, which is not permitted, they tried to evict the family.

The above-listed members of the church showed up at the apartment and told the family they would have to leave. The family allowed the church members in without incident, according to the complaint, but later one family member brandished a gun, and a child displayed a baseball bat. At that time, church members called police.

Police arrest church members during eviction

But when police arrived. they arrested the church members instead. The church and its members are seeking an unspecified amount in damages and other injunctive relief.

The apartment in question is located at 4597 Gold Medal Point No. 210 in Colorado Springs. Arnisha and Nicholas Gainer, husband and wife, rented the apartment. According to the church, they were well aware of the terms of the lease, which did not permit guns on premises.

“The reason and purpose behind the lease and the occupancy, was to provide a residence for Mr. and Mrs. Gainer, and their minor children, due to the Christian charitable efforts of the plaintiff Colorado Springs Fellowship Church to assist those members of the Church (and members of the community) who were in need a proper place to live, and did not have the funds to rent a habitable place for themselves,” according to the complaint. “While the subject premises had no furnishings or furniture, the plaintiff Colorado Springs Fellowship Church provided the following items, all property of the plaintiff, and as a loan for the period of occupancy by the Gainers.”

The plaintiffs also provided the Gainers with a vehicle to use as a loaner. The plaintiffs became aware the Gainers were violating the lease when “interfering with, disturbing, or threatening the rights, comfort, health, safety, convenience, quiet enjoyment, management, and use of the community by us, other residents and occupants and any of their guests, agents, invitees, or the general public.”

Tenants brandish firearm, baseball bat

Further, they used the firearm to threaten someone, according to the complaint. When the locksmith who accompanied church members to the eviction began to change the locks, “At this point in time Nicholas Gainer, without justification, reason or cause, emerged from a bedroom brandishing a firearm in a threatening and aggressive manner. In addition, thereto, Gainer’s son acted in an aggressive and threatening manner confronting the named plaintiffs with a baseball bat and waved it around in a threatening manner.”

The plaintiffs then called police. “Arriving, among others, were defendant Colorado Springs police officers Adam Fischer, Shane Reed, Samuel Hausman, and Patrick Burgardt,” according to the complaint.

“After being informed by plaintiff Stewart as to the circumstances, including Gainer’s brandishing of a firearm in a threatening and provocative manner, the response of the police officers present was that plaintiff Stewart and the other plaintiffs present were guilty of numerous Colorado criminal statutes.”

Church members cry racism

The complaint went on to say that defendant Corrado “then conducted an ‘investigation,’ with one goal, and one goal only: to establish that the named individual plaintiffs herein, i.e., plaintiffs Eric Jenkins, Matthew Brown, William Williams, Willie Pee, Torri Lopez, Clifford Stewart, Michelle Harris and Yolanda Banks Walker had all committed violations of the Colorado penal statute, notwithstanding and ignoring any and all evidence to the contrary[d1] .”

The complaint goes on to list more than $20,000 worth of furniture belonging to the church that allegedly was taken by the Grainers.

But Corrado persisted, according to the complaint. “Defendant Corrado, further, in a misguided intentional results-driven effort to seek to prosecute the defendants, sought to expand his investigation, with no legal, factual or rational basis whatsoever, into some fabricated allegations of financial mismanagement by the plaintiff Colorado Springs Fellowship Church. During the course of the incident, when police officers Burgardt, Fischer, Reed and Hausman arrived at the location, they failed to observe proper protocol, as established by the defendant Colorado Springs Police Department, by knowingly and intentionally muting their body cams — for extended periods of time.”

According to city policy, “the (body cameras) will remain activated until the event is completed and will not be turned off until the initial incident that caused the activation has concluded in order to ensure the integrity of the recording ….”

Further, the plaintiffs allege, the defendants ignored evidence and refused to investigate a potentially endangered child.

Plaintiffs say defendants violated several laws

The complaint specifies that the defendants violated several laws. First, the defendants violated laws pertaining to religious land use, according to the plaintiffs’ attorney. Second, they allege the police violated their civil rights.

“Defendants racially profiled the plaintiffs and assumed, at least partly, because of their race, that they presented an enhanced threat to public safety,” according to the complaints. “The defendants’ conduct, in their interactions with the plaintiffs, including their decision to arrest and prosecute them, were infected, and motivated, by implicit or explicit bias leading them to believe that they were more dangerous than would have been had they been a white suspect under the same circumstances.”

Third, “Defendant City of Colorado Springs along with defendant Colorado Springs Police Department developed and maintained law enforcement related policies, procedures, customs, and/or practices exhibiting or resulting in a deliberate indifference to the Fourteenth Amendment protected constitutional rights of persons in the City of Colorado Springs, which proximately caused the violation of Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”

The 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office told KRDO-TV “it would be inappropriate to comment as the criminal case against the involved church members is ongoing,” according to the station. The Colorado Springs Police Department did not respond to their request for comment, KRDO reported.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

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