City of Aurora being sued for mass detention during robbery search

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AURORA | The City of Aurora, its police chief and others are named in a lawsuit alleging that a massive 2012 search for a bank robber violated their Fourth Amendment rights.

Fourteen people filed the lawsuit, which was filed May 16 in the Colorado District Court, against the city and its attorneys, saying the two-and-a-half hour detention near East Iliff Avenue and South Buckley Road was unconstitutional search and seizure. Police rounded up nearly 30 people for hours searching for Christian Paetsch, who robbed a nearby bank.

After the roundup the police action was criticized, but police Chief Dan Oates said at the time that the search would hold up if tested in court.

The former music teacher who robbed an Aurora bank last summer was sentenced last April to seven years in prison.

Paetsch’s robbery of an Aurora Wells Fargo on June 2, 2012, gained national attention after Aurora police stopped at least 25 vehicles at an intersection and held them at gunpoint for almost an hour during their search for the robber. Eventually, a tracking device hidden in the stacks of cash lead investigators to Paetsch. In his car, cops found the beekeeper mask, gun and money from the bank.

A man identified as Christian Paetsch in a photo from a private music lesson website.
A man identified as Christian Paetsch in a photo from a private music lesson website.

The lawsuit said police pulled several people from their cars who didn’t remotely match the description of the robber, who was described as a white male about 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing about 130 pounds.

In one case, police pulled a black man from his car in front of his two sons, who were 9 and 6, and his 2-year-old daughter. The lawsuit said the daughter soiled herself during the stop and police wouldn’t let her parents change her diaper. The two boys also were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after the incident and now fear people in uniforms, the lawsuit said.

Another driver with epilepsy said police wouldn’t let her grab her son’s asthma inhaler during the stop, and he suffered a lengthy asthma attack.

The traffic stop sparked a flurry of criticism of Aurora police and Paetsch’s lawyer argued it was unconstitutional and tried to have the evidence seized from the car thrown out.

But last fall a judge sided with police and prosecutors and said the stop was legal.

Police and federal prosecutors said the stop lasted longer than it should have in part because it was a Saturday afternoon and the FBI agent who knew how to use a monitor for the tracking device was more than a hour away from the scene when he was called.

The suit faulted the police department, and specifically Chief Oates, for not having a monitor that could quickly locate the tracking device and instead relying on the FBI, whose offices are closed on Saturdays and are located near Downtown Denver.

Paetsch said in court this year that he robbed the bank in a “moment of despair.” He said he was going through trouble in his family life and bank robbery was his bizarre response to those problems.

Prosecutors said the bank had declined to restructure a loan for Paetsch a day before he robbed it.