AURORA | The city of Aurora will pay $335,000 to a woman who says police wrongly slammed her to the ground during a videotaped 2015 arrest, the woman’s lawyers announced Tuesday.
OyZhana Williams’ lawyers filed the lawsuit on her behalf last fall in federal district court in Denver. They also released video that shows the then-teenager being tossed to the ground outside a standalone emergency room where she had taken her friend after the friend was shot.
Adam Frank, one of her attorneys at the Denver law firm Frank and Salahuddin LLC., said a trial date in the case had not yet been set, but his team had recently deposed the various officers involved. After that, he said city officials likely knew a trial would go poorly for them.
“Aurora had a chance to see what a trial would look like,” he said.
Through a city spokeswoman, City Attorney Mike Hyman said the settlement doesn’t mean the city is admitting wrongdoing.
“The city has entered into a settlement agreement with Ms. Williams on this matter. As part of that agreement, the city did not admit liability in this case. This case was settled for the reason that many cases are settled — to avoid the cost of prolonged litigation. That cost would have far exceeded the value of the settlement,” Hyman said in a statement.
An Aurora police spokesman referred requests for comment to the city spokeswoman but said one of the officers involved, Sgt. Michael Hawkins, retired earlier this year. He also said an Internal Affairs investigation into the case is ongoing.
Frank said he is “confident” Hawkins left the force at least in part because of the ongoing investigation.
After her arrest, Williams was charged with second-degree assault of a police officer but those charges were later dropped.
The lawsuit named the three officers — Hawkins, Officer Jordan Odneal and officer Jose Ortiz — in their individual capacity.
The incident started in the early morning hours of Dec. 22, 2015, when Williams rushed her boyfriend to a hospital after he was shot, according to the lawsuit.
Police asked to search Williams’ car for evidence related to the shooting and she allowed them to, the lawsuit says.
Later police said they planned to tow the vehicle and demanded Williams’ keys, which she initially refused to give them, the lawsuit says.
Eventually, Williams dropped the keys in front of an officer.
The video shows the officer then tackling Williams before several other officers join him in restraining Williams on the ground. The officers then shove Williams into the back seat of a police cruiser.
Williams was booked into the city jail and was behind bars for several days, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, before being released, the lawsuit says.
Frank said Williams lost her job because of the incident and struggled to find a new job while the assault charges were pending.
Settlements like these often include language requiring the city to make some changes to their use of force policy or other transparency measures.
Frank said that in the time between when this incident happened and it was settled, Aurora already embarked on some of those changes as part of the city’s 2016 settlement with the family of Nachelys Vinzant. In that case the city paid out $2.6 million and agreed to tougher rules for when officers have to report use-of-incidents and body cameras for all patrol officers.
Frank said those two changes would have been two Williams demanded, but she didn’t need to because they were already in place.