COLORADO CIVIL RIGHTS COMPLAINT: Judge allows Anderson lawsuit to proceed

A federal judge did not completely dismiss a civil rights lawsuit related to a former Colorado Springs police officer’s conduct on the job, as the officer continues his training as a new hire for the Columbus Police Department.

In the Colorado lawsuit, plaintiff Michael Sexton alleges that his First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated in 2019 when Matthew Anderson, a Colorado Springs police officer at the time, pinned him to the hood of his squad car, wrenched his arm and issued him a citation for jaywalking in retaliation for flipping the police officer off moments earlier.

Judge Philip A. Brimmer of U.S. District Court in Denver allowed the lawsuit to proceed with claims against Anderson for violations of free speech, retaliation and unreasonable search and seizure, finding that Sexton had made a sufficient showing that the officer did not have probable cause to detain him for jaywalking, according to a March 31 ruling.

The judge dismissed other claims against Anderson alleging excessive force and malicious prosecution and all claims against Colorado Springs.

Anderson was sworn in as a Columbus police officer on March 16 and voluntarily disclosed the lawsuit to Columbus police during the hiring process, CPD spokesman Lt. Matt Harris said earlier.

Colorado Springs Police Department spokesman Lt. James Sokolik declined to comment, saying that he “cannot discuss ongoing litigation.”

CPD is "monitoring" the proceedings but declined to comment further, Harris said. “We are monitoring the civil proceedings in Colorado involving Officer Anderson," Harris said. "Since the case is ongoing and a final ruling has not been made by the judge, we believe it is not appropriate to make any additional remarks until the legal proceedings have concluded.”

CPD confirmed that the city of Colorado Springs is continuing to pay for Anderson’s defense.

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 14, 2020 in U.S. District Court in Denver, stems from an incident that took place June 7, 2019, when Sexton raised his middle finger and flipped off Anderson as the officer drove past him in Colorado Springs.

According to the lawsuit, Anderson allegedly made a U-turn across four lanes of traffic after seeing Sexton’s gesture and asked him if he needed help. When Sexton told the officer that he didn’t, Anderson started to drive away but then allegedly performed another U-turn after observing Sexton cross the street where there was no crosswalk.

Sexton then flipped off Anderson against and started to film the officer on his cellphone.

“Defendant Anderson jumped out of his vehicle and grabbed Mr. Sexton,” the lawsuit states. “Defendant Anderson used force against Mr. Sexton within seconds of the initiation of the interaction. Defendant Anderson pulled Mr. Sexton to the police car by his wrist and shoved Mr. Sexton against, and over, the hood of his vehicle.”

The lawsuit claims that Sexton was handcuffed “for nearly 30 minutes” and issued a ticket for jaywalking after he “expressed his First Amendment-protected speech by flipping off the car.”

More specifically, Sexton was cited for violating a section of the Colorado Springs Municipal Code that requires pedestrians to cross a street at a marked crosswalk if they are “between adjacent intersections at which traffic control signals are in operation,” according to the judge’s ruling.

However, one of the intersections next to where Sexton crossed the street was not controlled by a traffic light or marked with a crosswalk, meaning that detaining Sexton “was not supported by probable cause” because he “could not have violated the municipal code,” according to the judge’s ruling.

“A simple glance at the intersection of 30th Street and Pikes Peak Avenue would have revealed that there was no traffic signal,” Brimmer ruled. “Any mistake that this intersection had a traffic signal cannot be considered reasonable.”

In March 2020, the defense had filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that Anderson “had arguable probable cause to detain and ticket” Sexton for jaywalking and that the officer was entitled to “qualified immunity,” a legal doctrine that shields public officials, including police, from lawsuits seeking monetary damages as a result of actions done in the scope of their job.

As of Monday, the case was still pending in federal court.

Video of the incident posted on Sexton’s YouTube channel the day after the incident shows an officer who later identifies himself as Anderson exiting his police vehicle and approaching Sexton, saying, “You just jaywalked” before covering Sexton’s camera with his hand.

The camera then falls to the ground. Off screen, Anderson is heard telling Sexton to turn around and not to move as Sexton protests and asks the officer to calm down. Anderson then tells Sexton why he was being issued a citation for jaywalking.

At one point, Anderson asks Sexton, “Why were you making obscene gestures the whole time? That’s weird, too, right?”

After Sexton replied, claiming that he had a “First Amendment right” to do so, Anderson said, “Yeah, but you also just can’t jaywalk, buddy. So you’re going to get a ticket, alright?”

At another point in the video, Sexton is heard attempting to draw attention to another individual he claims had just crossed the street at a similar spot that he had. Anderson appears to acknowledge this to Sexton, but says, “well, sir, since you pay our bills and stuff, we want to give you our full attention,” likely in reference to comments Sexton made earlier in the video that he was a “tax-paying citizen and I pay your guys’ salary.”

In criminal court, the jaywalking charge against Sexton was dismissed three months later, and Anderson allegedly was reprimanded for violating the police department’s discretionary judgment policy, the lawsuit claims.

However, Harris said in a previous interview that there may be some “confusion” about the extent to which Anderson was disciplined.

The internal affairs unit at the Colorado Springs Police Department looked into the incident and Anderson “was cleared of any wrongdoing,” Harris said. Anderson was not suspended due to the incident or found to have violated the law, Harris said.

Harris said the equivalent action at CPD would be a “counseling session” in which a supervisor would discuss an incident with an officer. These counseling sessions are done on a regular basis at CPD, and they are documented in personnel records.

“When (Anderson) explained it and the way internal affairs and everybody out there (described the disciplinary action), it wouldn’t even be considered written up,” Harris said. “It was a counseling session that was documented in regards to officer discretion in making those types of stops. It doesn’t say that the stop was illegal or bad or wrong. It was just simply a counseling session.”

“The way it was described to us (by Colorado Springs police), it was the lowest step that existed in their discipline process,” Harris added later in the interview.

Sokolik said Anderson worked for the department from March 16, 2015 to March 5, 2021, when he voluntarily resigned to take a job at CPD “to be nearer to family.”

Anderson went to high school in Lexington, Kentucky, said CPD Chief Mike Richardson during the March 16 Columbus Board of Works meeting where the officer was sworn in.