AURORA, Colo. — A new lawsuit filed on behalf of a woman who was allegedly attacked by an off-duty Aurora police officer says the department has a pattern and practice of officers using excessive force.
Wyoma Martinez was left badly beaten outside of her apartment complex in January, allegedly at the hands of another apartment resident: off-duty Officer Douglas Harroun.
The lawsuit claims excessive force, false arrest and failure to train.
Affidavit: Off-duty Aurora officer punched woman with disabilities several times
According to the lawsuit, Martinez suffers from complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) that causes extreme pain from increased sensitivity.
On that cold night, her disability was causing swelling and stiffness, so she had to walk slowly outside with her dog.
"Defendant Harroun pulled into the parking lot. Apparently frustrated that Ms. Martinez was not moving quickly enough—owing to her CRPS and impaired gait—the Defendant began revving his engine and came dangerously close to hitting Ms. Martinez and her dog," the lawsuit reads. "After Ms. Martinez motioned toward the icy and snow-covered pavement and indicated that she was trying her best to remove herself from the situation, Mr. Harroun pulled over, exited his vehicle, and began to aggressively berate Ms. Martinez."
The suit says Martinez told Harroun she had a disability, but then Harroun allegedly started beating her. According to the lawsuit, Martinez was punched, slammed to the ground and strangled.
"I was shocked about it. Because of all people that should be able to show some restraint, you would hope it would be the police," said one eyewitness who did not want to be identified.
The suit says during the attack, Harroun identified himself as an officer and told Martinez she was under arrest. Eyewitnesses told Denver7 they saw the same thing.
"Mr. Harroun pulled out his APD police badge, identified himself as a police officer, and told Ms. Martinez that she was under arrest. He also provided his badge numbers to the good Samaritans who intervened and assured them that he was a cop—and that he was doing his job," the lawsuit states. "Even after releasing Ms. Martinez, Mr. Harroun made clear—pursuant to his authority as a police officer with APD—that she was not free to leave, that she was “going to jail,” and that she was being detained until other officers arrived."
When law enforcement did arrive on scene, Harroun was arrested and now faces felony charges in the criminal case against him. The Aurora Police Department confirmed that Harround resigned from the department a few weeks later while he was under investigation.
Martinez said her road to recovery is a long one. She's suffered several serious injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, impaired vision, anterior abdominal wall trauma, severe exacerbation of her CRPS and significant mental and emotional damage.
Martinez released a written statement via her attorneys, asking that the city "takes this seriously and makes the changes necessary."
"There has been no end to the repercussions I have suffered from this incident. This man assaulted me for simply walking my dog too slow. I had no idea that fateful night while in my pajamas and taking my dog out that my life would change forever. I am now navigating the multiple physical and emotional effects of this event during what was supposed to be a year of hope for me and which has now turned into a nightmare. These are the people that are supposed to protect us, yet I am now faced with living life with memory loss and so much more. I feel fortunate to not have lost my life like so many others, yet at what price? I can only pray the City of Aurora takes this seriously and makes the changes necessary so that no other member of the community is assaulted in this way again."
The lawsuit is calling for a jury trial. It highlights past cases of reported excessive force by APD officers and makes the claim that Aurora has failed to create expectations for offices to behave responsibly. It also claims that Aurora has a pattern of officers using force to take people to the ground without giving them time to respond to officer commands.
"Sadly, this is yet another incident involving a person of color — and a person with disabilities — who was harmed at the hands of an officer with the Aurora Police Department. While this is a particularly egregious case, and tremendously violent one, at this point it feels unsurprising given the city’s history. But we are forever grateful to the courageous witnesses who stepped in to save Ms. Martinez, and for the first responders who provided care to her after this attack," said Zach Warren, attorney for Martinez.
Denver7 reached out to the City of Aurora and APD about the lawsuit. Both said they could not comment on pending litigation.
Harroun is back before a judge in June for a preliminary hearing for the criminal charges against him.