Video: Matt Hefferon issues complaint against Fort Collins cop who shoved him
Update: The Fort Collins Police Department's investigation into a YouTube video apparently showing an officer shoving Matt Hefferon without provocation -- and Hefferon then being arrested -- is continuing at this writing. (The video can be seen below.) But Hefferon has now issued a formal complaint about the incident, which he says revolves around, of all things, a pedi-cab.
Prior to a press conference yesterday by Fort Collins Police Chief John Hutto, department spokesman Sergeant Jon Holsten released a statement asserting that early Sunday morning, "Fort Collins police officers were approached by the operator of a downtown bicycle taxi service reporting damage to one of his bikes. The informant was able to direct officers to three involved males who were leaving the area on foot."
Hefferon, for his part, tells the Fort Collins Coloradoan that he had his pals, including Jarvis Gullatt, and Josh Cullip, had been drinking in Old Town when they decided to take a pedi-cab -- and when they jumped into the vehicle, it flipped, breaking a rear reflector in the process. At that point, officers contacted the trio and told them they could pay for the damage on the spot or be cited for their actions.
According to Hefferon, he responded by telling the officer that he couldn't pay immediately because his ATM card wasn't working. "I was just standing there talking, explaining," he said in the Coloradoan interview. "And all of a sudden, he just snaps,"
Indeed, Hefferon doesn't seem to be advancing on the officer when the latter gives him a sharp shove in the chest and shouts, "Get back!" An instant later, another officer rushes at Hefferon and announces that he's under arrest -- a pronouncement that prompts Hefferon to repeatedly ask, "For what?"
Look below to see a 9News report that includes a portion of the video and Hutto's news conference. Then continue reading for our earlier coverage, including the complete video.
Original March 26 post with update below: The Fort Collins Police Department is currently investigating a video that popped up on YouTube in the last day or so.
In the clip, taken at around 2 a.m. Sunday morning in the Old Town Square area of downtown Fort Collins (it's on view below), an officer can be seen shoving a man, apparently without provocation -- after which the guy who got pushed is promptly arrested.
The footage was posted by a YouTube user identified as Jade Cervantes, but the person shooting it appears to be male. He initially focuses on an officer who faces him and asks, "Any questions?" but does not attempt to prevent him from recording more video. Meanwhile, on the right side of the frame, a man can be seen speaking to a second officer. The man initially gesticulates with his hands, but he's standing still, more or less, when the second officer jolts him in the chest and shouts, "Get back!"
"Don't push me again!" the man responds, from a position several feet further away from the officer than he'd been seconds earlier.
At that point, the first officer rushes over, grabs the man and says, "You're under arrest."
"For what?" the man wants to know -- and he asks the question repeatedly, even after someone (the officer?) can be faintly heard saying, "Resisting." The man is then told to place his hand on the back of his head even as his arms are being held. His frustrated reply: "I can't!"
At that point, the person with the camera adds his opinion, telling the man, who he identifies as "Matt," not to trip, because he's got the incident on video. The clip ends with the narrator brushing off the second officer's demand for his identification by saying there's no need for him to show it.
According to Fort Collins Police spokesman Sergeant Jon Holsten, the department learned about the existence of the video when asked about it by the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Shortly thereafter, FCPD Chief John Hutto ordered that the incident be reviewed even though no one has, as of this writing, issued a formal complaint about what happened. (Update, 12:45 p.m. March 26: Hutto will hold a press conference about the video at 2 p.m. today.)
The newspapers identifies one of the two officers on camera as Kyle Bendzsa, whose name made the news in September 2010, during the arrest of Colorado Eagles player Mario Joly. According to 9News, Bendzsa ordered Joly to leave Old Town Square during what was described as a riot, and when he refused to do so, the officer "delivered a straight strike" to the player's chest with his police baton. Afterward, Joly reportedly lunged at the officers and resisted arrest, getting his shirt torn in the process -- a turn of events that prompted him to phone the department to complain. Joly was subsequently arrested for second-degree assault.
Speaking about this weekend's incident, Holsten says, "The chief has ordered us to take a look at this, to see if we can get to the bottom of it. And just a little bit ago, we were able to speak to some of the guys on patrol and figure out what case it was. We're rounding up some of that information as far as the arrests made and what we're going to do in terms of talking to the officers and other folks."
No special events were taking place in Old Town Square at the time of the altercation -- just the normal process of let-out, as bars prepared to close at 2 a.m.
While the police department is initiating an investigation even without a complaint, Holsten isn't ready to make a value judgment on what's portrayed in the clip. "There are things that happen before the video is turned on, and there are things that happen after it's turned off. And we're trying to be cognizant of the fact that videos don't typically give the whole story. They give part of it."
Even so, he continues, "we know by looking at the video that part of the community will be concerned about it. When we see a video that shows physical contact with the public, it doesn't necessarily mean the officer did anything wrong, but it does let us know we have to look at the whole picture."
Here's the video:
Update, 1:53 p.m. March 26: Minutes before Fort Collins Police Chief John Hutto is scheduled to appear at a 2 p.m. press conference to speak about the incident captured in the video above, the FCPD has released the names of the individuals involved. Turns out that not one, not two but three people were cited in the early March 25 exchange with police. They are:
Matthew Robert Hefferson
Date of Birth: 10/10/87
Charges: Criminal Mischief and Obstructing a Peace Officer (Cited and Released)
Joshua Michael Cullip
Date of Birth: 01/27/88
Charges: Interference (Cited and Released)
Jarvis Lukeith Gullatt
Date of Birth 10/22/87
Charges: Obstructing a Peace Officer (Cited and Released)
Hefferson is presumably the person being shoved, since the video captures the videographer referring to "Matt." And it appears his name may have been misspelled in the FCPD release. His Facebook page prints his last name as "Hefferon." (Update: Spokesman Holsten has now acknowledged that Hefferon's name was misspelled in the initial release.)
As previously reported, one of the FCPD officers featured was Officer Kyle Bendzsa. Also seen is Officer Dan Calahan.
In addition, the time of the incident has now been pinned down to 1:47 a.m. According to a release from Sergeant Jon Holsten, quoted above, "Fort Collins police officers were approached by the operator of a downtown bicycle taxi service reporting damage to one of his bikes. The informant was able to direct officers to three involved males who were leaving the area on foot."
FYI: Cullip posted the video on his Facebook page yesterday along with the following description:
"Police brutality in FORT COLLINS CO.
Cop shoves Matt Hefferon; for no reason!!! Check it out! Jarvis Gullatt, and Josh Cullip."
Follow and like the Michael Roberts/Westword Facebook page.
More from our Comment of the Day archive: "Readers disagree about whether Denver Diner incident was police brutality."