Mennonite church leaders are requesting an investigation into a Fort Collins police officer who threw a woman to the ground after church staff called for medical help for the woman.
Leaders at the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship and the ACLU of Colorado on Thursday sent a letter to Fort Collins Police Services requesting an internal affairs investigation into the incident. The officer, Jason Lang, needlessly escalated the interaction, violated the department’s policy and harmed the woman instead of helping her, the letter states.
The incident exemplifies why people experiencing homelessness — and the people who serve them — hesitate to call 911 for help, said Steve Ramer, the pastor of the Mennonite Fellowship. They fear police will needlessly hurt or incarcerate the people who need help, he said.
“In our minds, the situation deteriorated once the police showed up,” Ramer said. “Not only does this young woman not get the help she really needs but she’s getting beat up in the process.”
Fort Collins Police Services patrol supervisors and leadership previously reviewed the incident and watched the video from the church as well as Lang’s body camera footage, as is routine after use of force incidents, spokeswoman Erin Feit said in an email. The department’s internal affairs unit will review the incident now that a formal complaint has been made, she said.
Lang remains on active duty with the agency, Feit said.
The woman who was arrested became homeless after aging out of foster care and started frequenting the church’s services in January 2021, according to the ACLU of Colorado’s letter. The woman had mental health needs and substance use disorder and never bothered anyone at the church, Ramer said.
Renee Schmidt, the church’s director of outreach, called 911 on Aug. 22 because the woman was acting erratically and not speaking coherently. Schmidt specifically requested medical services only, said the woman was not armed or dangerous, and said there was no crime, according to the letter.
Video shows that three paramedics responded to the church, where the woman sat on the back step next to Schmidt and another man. The paramedics spoke calmly to the woman and offered her medication that would help her stabilize, which the woman said she would take, according to the ACLU of Colorado’s letter.
Paramedics called for police assistance while on scene “due to the behavior of the subject,” Feit said in a statement.
The woman was sitting on the back steps of the church with the paramedics standing nearby when Lang arrived, video shows. Lang approached the woman, who stood up and took a few steps down the sidewalk and away from the officer. Lang told the woman to stay seated. As the woman continued to walk, Lang tried to stop her and reached out to grab her arm. The woman swung her arms around before making a fist at Lang, the video shows.
Lang then followed the woman as she walked back to the steps. The woman turned, made another fist, and yelled at Lang to get back. Lang responded by yelling at the woman to sit down. When the woman refused to sit, Lang charged at her, slammed her into the wall and then threw her to concrete.
Lang held the woman to the ground with a knee while he handcuffed her. The entire interaction between the woman and Lang, from Lang’s arrival to the takedown, lasted 23 seconds.
“Upon Officer Lang’s arrival on scene, the woman refused to follow instructions and advanced aggressively toward him,” Feit said in an email. “Officer Lang responded to the woman’s actions and used a trained takedown technique.”
Lang arrested the woman on suspicion of resisting arrest and obstructing government operations, court records show. The woman was taken to the hospital to be checked for injuries was later booked into the Larimer County jail. The woman did not report any injuries, Feit said.
The woman stayed in the jail for five days because she could not afford the $75 bond. She was freed after Ramer’s church paid her bond on Aug. 27.
“There was just no reason for him to do what he did,” Ramer said. “There was no breaking of any law, the only thing she did was try to leave the scene and I don’t think that’s against the law.”
Lang failed to try nonviolent means of handling the situation and instead attacked the woman despite the size difference between the two and the fact that the woman was surrounded by four paramedics, the ACLU letter states.
Fort Collins Police Services’ policy instructs officers responding to calls involving people in crisis to “be patient, polite, calm, courteous, and avoid overreacting.” It tells officers to speak slowly and to act in a non-threatening way.
“If possible, responding officers generally should avoid: using stances or tactics that can be interpreted as aggressive; allowing others to interrupt or engage the person; cornering a person who is not believed to be armed, violent, or suicidal; and arguing, speaking with a raised voice, or using threats to obtain compliance,” the policy states.
Lang’s actions violated that policy, ACLU of Colorado attorney Anna Kurtz said.
“His loud and abrupt intrusion extinguished the calm that emergency medical and fire personnel had been cultivating since their arrival,” Kurtz wrote in the ACLU letter. “He reacted hotly to (the woman’s) mild unruliness, failing to take into account her compromised emotional and mental state.”
The woman has stopped coming to the church since the incident and church staff has struggled to stay in contact with her, Ramer said. The incident has further isolated the woman and severed her from support systems, he said.
“Now it’s making us second guess — should we even call the EMTs?” Ramer said. “What do we do? What do we do for someone in a crisis?”