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Boulder Ordered to Pay Record $3.41 Million Judgment for Civil Rights Violations

BOULDER, Colo. – The City of Boulder will pay the largest civil penalty in its history – $3.41 million – following a federal jury’s ruling that Boulder police officers violated the civil rights of Seth Franco. In the case, Franco v. City of Boulder, jurors determined that Boulder police officers violated Mr. Franco’s civil rights.

The city of Boulder has been ordered to pay the damages to the estate of Mr. Franco, who passed away in 2020. According to the complaint, Boulder police officers used a request for a welfare check as an opportunity to illegally search and detain Mr. Franco, in part due to a grudge one of the officers had stemming from a previous encounter he had with Mr. Franco a year earlier.

Mr. Franco, who suffered the physical and emotional effects of a traumatic brain injury, was illegally arrested by the officers and sent to jail rather than to a hospital. While in jail, Mr. Franco’s medications were taken from him and he was isolated and kept in restraints that were inappropriate for an individual in his situation.

According to the complaint, “(The officers’) actions were carried out not only in violation of Mr. Franco’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, but also in violation of the Boulder Police Department’s policy and procedures governing arrestable offenses, which, due to a custom, pattern, and practice of not being properly trained and supervised, the responding officers ignored.”

The jury’s verdict form filed with the court following the judgment said that a lack of adequate training led to the violation of Mr. Franco’s rights and that, “Inadequate training demonstrates a deliberate indifference on the part of the defendant, city of Boulder, toward persons with whom its police officers come into contact.”

Gwyneth Whalen, an attorney at Caplan & Earnest who represented Mr. Franco, said, “The city has known of this unconstitutional misconduct since 2018, when a Boulder district judge found the officers had violated Seth’s constitutional rights. The city made no changes to police training and, even worse, continues the same unconstitutional practices that led to this lawsuit.”

Christian Griffin, an attorney who also represented Mr. Franco, added, “We appreciate the hard work of the seven federal jurors who got it right. Citizens of Boulder should be very disturbed that the city continues to deny any wrongdoing and takes no responsibility for the police officers’ heartbreaking mistreatment of a young man with emotional trauma and brain injuries.”

Both Mr. Griffin and Ms. Whalen noted that the City of Boulder has – nearly four years later – yet to discipline the police officers involved in the case, which they called “inexcusable institutional arrogance.” They also called on members of the Boulder City Council to demand answers from the Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold and the City Attorney Teresa Taylor Tate about why the city is now facing a judgment of over $3.41 million for the damages inflicted by Boulder police on a Boulder community member.

Gwyneth Whalen is the leader of Caplan & Earnest’s Litigation practice groupShe focuses on civil litigation, including commercial disputes, employment litigation, contested probate and real property disputes.

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