Award amount questioned by victim
A local contractor, former military veteran and staunch critic of the current Teller County Sheriff’s administration has won a preliminary victory in his several-year-claim that he was nearly killed from injuries suffered from the actions of law officers.
A federal court last week awarded Paul Bauman $72,583 in damages after a jury determined that Teller deputies violated his constitutional rights by unlawfully seizing him and entering his van, when he was sleeping. This incident occurred in October 2010 during a theft investigation in the Cripple Creek Mountain Estates area, when officers reportedly got a tip from an informant.
The county, through its insurance carrier, also may have to pay a steep bill for attorney fees, which will be determined by the court at a later date.
In his lawsuit, Bauman maintained that sheriff deputies used excessive force and roughed him up in such a manner that they dislodged his pacemaker, injured his heart and compressed discs in his spine. He was airlifted to a hospital and nearly died, according to reports at the time.
The decision, which followed a four-day trial in Denver, culminated a highly publicized case that turned into a big issue during the Nov. 2014 election showdown between Sheriff Mike Ensminger and challenger Mark Manriquez. Critics of the sheriff’s administration cited this lawsuit as an example of poor leadership, inadequate training and overzealous SWAT maneuvers. Ensminger, however, handily won the election by a 60-40 percent margin and received strong support from many community leaders.
The court action dismissed Ensminger from any wrongdoing, as he had just started his tenure as sheriff when the incident occurred. Also, the jury didn’t find the officers involved guilty of excessive force, according to the judge’s ruling. Officers from the Cripple Creek Police Department, which assisted in the investigation, also weren’t cited for any improper behavior in the legal decision. .
But the jury concluded that former Undersheriff Stan Bishop was liable for the conduct of former deputies Josh Weatherill and Nick Nartbauer. They were found guilty of several counts of violating Bauman’s Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful searches and seizures, according to Bauman’s attorney, David Lane..
Despite receiving a preliminary legal victory, Bauman and his supporters were disappointed with the limited damages award. During the election campaign, Bauman advocates, including Manriquez, were predicting a $1 million-plus settlement offer.
“This was never about the money. This was about the truth,” said Bauman, in a phone interview Monday morning, in discussing the court findings.
At the same time, he admitted that the final verdict amounted to “getting thrown a bone,” with Judge Richard Matsch seeking to reach a swift conclusion. “I am not done yet,” added Bauman, who plans to speak with other judges and key legal experts in the next few weeks. He wonders if the judge overstepped his authority in banning the admission of certain information during the trial and not giving the jury more say.
“Some of the truth came out, but it didn’t all come out,” said the Teller resident.
According to a friend of Bauman, who assisted the former veteran with much of the legal legwork, the judge’s decision to not allow any testimony from medical and law enforcement experts impacted the final jury verdict and played a big role in restricting the damages’ award. “That really backfired on us,” said Bauman’s friend, who didn’t want to be identified. “Unfortunately, the attorneys are the big winners here.”
Still, Lane contends that the jury verdict will send a strong message. “I want law enforcement all over the state of Colorado to know there are repercussions for violating the United States Constitution. They need to spend less time on the shooting range and more time in the law library,” said Lane, according to an article posted on the Colorado Springs Independent website.
Picking on the wrong suspect
The case surrounding Bauman stems from a high profile robbery of a property in the Cripple Creek Mountain Estates area, involving the theft of more than 60 long guns, 24 handguns and 10,000 rounds of ammunition. The theft occurred while the owner, a well-known person in the community, was on vacation overseas.
Authorities were monitoring a residence, where they believe a possible informant was living. The informant had told police that he had individuals who were offering to sell him a large amount of guns, according to the lawsuit, and would help play a part in a mini-sting operation, with the hope of capturing the gun robber.But the informant never showed up for a scheduled meeting at a Cripple Creek casino. This led authorities to his RV residence in Cripple Creek Mountain Estates.
Authorities apparently got suspicious when Bauman, who was doing roofing in the area, entered his van on the property. At the time, Bauman was living out of his van and reportedly had the permission of a private property owner to park on an empty lot. The officers may have mistakenly assumed the stolen weapons were in his van, according to Bauman, in speculating on why officers confronted him in such a drastic manner.
The lawsuit maintains that the search of the informant’s residence and the entering of Bauman’s van were done illegally and without proper warrants. Moreover, Bauman claimed he was badly injured from the actions of Teller law officers, even though he made no attempt to resist.
According to the lawsuit, one deputy broke a rear window of Bauman’s van, while the other threw open the rear door to the van. Bauman also claims that deputies dragged him out of the vehicle, causing him to fall on his back. His pacemaker was also reportedly dislodged.
“My first thought at the time was the VC (the Viet Cong) are coming to get me,” said Bauman, who compares the assault to incidents he experienced during his service with the Marines in Vietnam. “It was unbelievable. There guns were drawn and everything. It brought back bad memories.”
Bauman was transported to a Colorado Springs hospital and then was airlifted to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Denver. For the last several years, he says he has incurred many medical problems from the incident and has lost years of lost wages.
During last week’s trial, sources say that vastly different versions of the law officers’ encounter with Bauman transpired, based on testimony.
But the jury agreed that Bauman’s rights were violated. In addition, the Teller contractor, who has done work with Habitat for Humanity, was not charged for any criminal violations regarding the theft investigation.
Eventually, federal authorities arrested and convicted William Lyman Agnew for the high profile gun theft, among other charges. He’s serving 51 months in prison. The so-called informant, who originally wanted $10,000 from the Cripple Creek Police to conduct a mini-sting gun sale, was apparently providing authorities with bogus information. .
The judge has requested that Bauman present the court with legal bills pertaining to the case on or before July 6. This could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to sources familiar with the case. .
Ensminger on Monday afternoon said he couldn’t comment on the case because it hasn’t been completely resolved. “It is not over yet, said the sheriff. Although he has been dismissed from any claims of wrongdoing, the sheriff noted that three officers are still involved in the civil lawsuit.