Boulder to settle lawsuit by Black man arrested while filming police

Boulder has agreed to settle with Sammie Lawrence, the Black man arrested by former Boulder Officer Waylon Lolotai while filming police in 2019.

In the agreement, which is expected to be approved by the Boulder City Council in a meeting on Tuesday, the city agreed to pay Lawrence $95,000. The city also agreed to provide data regarding how frequently Boulder police officers have used force, including drawing their weapons, from July 1, 2019, through June 30.

“Given the projected costs of litigation, the city attorney believes that it is unlikely that the city will be in a significantly better economic position by litigating the case as compared to approving the proposed settlement agreement,” according to a staff memo for Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Boulder City Council is required by charter to approve any settlements that exceed $10,000. If the council opted to reject the settlement, litigation would continue.

Lawrence filed a lawsuit against Lolotai and the city in March. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, named Boulder and Lolotai as defendants and alleged they violated Lawrence’s First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights.

“This settlement affords some measure of justice to Sammie Lawrence, and the data it requires the city to disclose will shed light on just how routinely Boulder police use force against the people of Boulder,” co-counsel Dan Williams said in a statement. “We hope this settlement will prompt introspection from city officials, whose lofty rhetoric around policing has lagged far behind the reality of Boulder’s pattern of abusive police conduct.”

According to earlier reporting by the Daily Camera, the police department said Lolotai was conducting extra patrols on April 5, 2019, near 30th Street and Mapleton Avenue when he responded to a 911 call about 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 interaction.

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 police, 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.

Lawrence has maintained that the “staff” in question was a cane used as a walking aid and that he was not interfering with the police and was simply documenting the interaction.

Lolotai ultimately left the police department in September 2020. He had been placed on paid administrative leave while the city conducted an internal investigation into an Instagram account for a company he runs @tacticaltoa, which appeared to celebrate police violence against civilians.

However, Boulder police Chief Maris Herold characterized the violations as minor and said her plan for addressing them would have been additional training and coaching. Had he not decided to leave, Lolotai would not have been terminated.

If you watch

What: Boulder City Council meeting

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Council and city staff members will participate from remote locations. Residents can watch the meeting on Boulder’s YouTube channel or on Channel 8.


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