Aurora plates get you profiled by Denver police, lawsuit claims

A new civil-rights lawsuit against the Denver Police Department claims a man was arrested because he “is an African-American man from Aurora.”

Deon Jones at David Lane's law office. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Deon Jones at David Lane's law office. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Deon Jones at David Lane’s law office. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

A new civil-rights lawsuit against the Denver Police Department claims that plaintiff Deon Lamon Jones was arrested solely because he “is an African-American man from Aurora who was spotted in Denver at an early morning hour.”

The lawsuit alleges this is part of a broader pattern of profiling at DPD. The department asks that the public “reserve judgement until all the facts of the case are available.”

Jones, 42, was sitting in his parked car at a friend’s apartment building on North Pearl Street early on the morning of April 26, 2016, according to court documents filed by attorney David Lane.

Jones says was waiting for his friend when he noticed police vehicles pulling up behind him in the garage. Before the officers approached, Jones took out his license and registration.

The Denver police officers, meanwhile, were running Jones’ information and discovered that he was from Aurora, according to Lane’s filing. Lane says that the officers were “cruising around running license plates.” The parking lot is open to the public and un-gated, Lane said.

“We pull in here, the vehicle’s registered out of Aurora, so we start contacting him,” one of the officers later told a colleague, according to recordings cited in the lawsuit. In the lawsuit’s interpretation, this was a sign of bias and the sole reason that the officers approached Jones.

“Despite having no reason other than their own racist suspicions, confirmed by the officer’s body camera, that a black man didn’t belong in Denver at that hour, Defendant Officers ran Mr. Jones’ license plates,” Lane writes in the lawsuit. It’s unclear from the body-camera footage whether the officers could have discerned Jones’ race before running the plates.

“Upon discovering that his car was registered in Aurora, a city with a large African-American population, Defendant Officers Black and Manriquez then approached Mr. Jones’ vehicle, one on the passenger side and one on the driver’s side and started yelling for him to show them his license,” the claim continues.

(Black people make up about 16 percent of Aurora’s population, compared to about 10 percent of Denver’s population.)

Part of one officer’s body-camera footage:

Please excuse the poor quality; we were not able to get immediate access to the original files.

“You do not see this kind of behavior in Cherry Hills Village,” Lane said.

” … Why should he have to get out of his car?”

Jones then put his hands up, license in one hand, and asked what he’d done wrong. He cracked the window, rather than opening it fully, because he fears the police, his attorney said.

One officer, Gregory Black, “immediately ordered Mr. Jones out of the car,” and said Jones was “being detained,” the footage shows. “I’m giving you a lawful order,” an officer says on the video.

Jones reportedly asked why and was told only to get out of the car. Black then “abruptly opened the driver’s side door,” and Jones “instinctively pulled the door closed,” the lawsuit claims.

Black then stepped back and drew his gun. A second officer drew his gun, and Black ordered Jones out of the car at gunpoint, then forced him to the ground, threatening to shoot him if he lowered his hands, the lawsuit claims.

Jones told the officers that he had only been sitting in his car. Black replied, “Yeah, you’re telling me something I already know.”

Another officer then began to search the vehicle, which Lane says was unwarranted because the arrest was unlawful.  A further search of Jones’ person found two plastic bags “suspected to have contained a controlled substance.” Jones had a “tiny” amount of cocaine, Lane said.

The officers charged Jones on suspicion of interference with police operations, the lawsuit states.

The district attorney refused to prosecute due to lack of probable cause, according to Lane.

“They have no reasonable suspicion or probable cause,” Lane said. “…He was essentially charged with disturbing the police.”

The lawsuit was filed against the city and county of Denver and three police officers, including Black, alleging unconstitutional search and seizure, causing “humiliation, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life and other significant injuries, damages and losses,” among other allegations.

Jones, a father of five who manages a landscaping business and caters barbecue functions, said the incident was “shocking.”

“I was like, ‘Man, are they going to kill me just because I won’t get out of the vehicle?'” he told reporters. “I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was parked in my vehicle.”

DPD’s response, in full:

“The Denver Police Department has not yet been formally notified of the lawsuit in question. The Department asks that the public reserve judgement until all the facts of the case are available. When appropriate, the Department will address any public concerns regarding this matter.”

The lawsuit:

Click here to read the entire complaint.

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.