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Colorado Cops Left High School Student in ‘Fog of Pepper Spray’ for 10 Minutes as She Had a Panic Attack in Back of Squad Car, Lawsuit Says

Amara Keens-Dumas

Amara Keens-Dumas

Three Colorado Springs police officers face an excessive force lawsuit in connection with an Oct. 17, 2020 incident involving a then-17-year-old high school student. Amara Keens-Dumas alleges she was handcuffed and left “in a fog of pepper spray” in the back of a police car for around 10 minutes as she had a panic attack.

Keens-Dumas filed the case in state court in El Paso County, alleging that Colorado Springs Sgt. Gregory Wilhelmi, Officer Ryan Yoshimiya, and Officer Brianna Ragsdale engaged in excessive force.

The lawsuit said that Keens-Dumas got in a verbal argument with her boyfriend and was drinking on Oct. 16, 2020. The argument spilled over in the early morning hours of Oct. 17, leading someone in the neighborhood to call the cops just before 3 a.m.

The lawsuit disclosed that Keens-Dumas had recently been raped and that she was “struggling emotionally with the trauma.”

Her brother “informed Defendants Ragsdale and Yoshimiya that Ms. Keens-Dumas had been drinking, had recently been raped in an unrelated incident, and was struggling emotionally with the trauma caused by that rape,” the lawsuit said. “He stated that he was trying to get Ms. Keens-Dumas back inside the apartment.”

At that point, that’s what happened, and the officers left the scene. But cops soon received another call and returned after 3:45 a.m.

“Defendants Yoshimiya and Ragsdale responded to the call. When they arrived, they saw Ms. Keens-Dumas sitting on the street in a distraught state, crying and yelling. A friend of Ms. Keens-Dumas, Emily Yates, told Defendant Yoshimiya that Ms. Keens-Dumas had gone back inside but became upset when her boyfriend left,” the lawsuit said. “Defendant Ragsdale began questioning Ms. Keens-Dumas. Ms. Keens-Dumas was dismissive of Defendant Ragsdale, not wanting to get involved with the police. Ms. Keens-Dumas told Defendant Ragsdale that she did not have to speak with her.”

Things only escalated from there, according to the suit, leading to retraumatization of the survivor by “groping” her.

“Defendants Ragsdale and Yoshimiya had been told that Ms. Keens Dumas was a recent victim of rape and was still traumatized by that experience. Ms. Keens-Dumas repeatedly told Defendants Ragsdale and Yoshimiya not to touch her in the way that they were man-handling her and specifically not to touch her leg. Defendants Ragsdale and Yoshimiya clearly observed that Defendant Yoshimiya pushing Ms. Keens-Dumas against the police car and touching her leg triggered a trauma response and extreme emotional distress from Ms. Keens-Dumas, yet they continued to man handle her.”

“Rather than de-escalate the situation created by their unnecessary groping of Ms. Keens-Dumas, Defendants Ragsdale and Yoshimiya forcefully put her onto the asphalt,” court documents said.

The lawsuit described what allegedly happened when Keens-Dumas was shut in the back of the police car while restrained.

The plaintiff, who was kicking the closed door, said the police sergeant arrived on scene and ordered an officer to pepper spray her. She said she pleaded with the officers to call her mom as she had a panic attack.

“Ms. Keens-Dumas was demonstrating clear signs of a panic attack, including hyperventilation. Ms. Keens-Dumas could not breathe,” documents said. “Ms. Keens-Dumas continued to scream that she was a minor, that she wanted her mom, and that she had the right to call her mom. She repeated: “I’m a minor. I get a phone call. I’m a minor. I get a phone call.”

Keens-Dumas said the sergeant pepper sprayed her face twice and officers shut the squad car doors.

“She was essentially imprisoned in a gas chamber with no escape from the excruciatingly painful pepper spray,” the suit said, claiming that Officers Yoshimiya and Ragsdale “knew” that pepper spraying her was “unreasonable.”

Yet the plaintiff was left to sit “in the back of the police car for approximately 10 minutes, with pepper spray burning her eyes, face, throat, lungs, hands, and feet, without any medical assistance,” the suit said.

The plaintiff is seeking damages, a formal written apology from the defendants, disciplinary action of relevant Colorado Springs employees, and order policy changes.

“Defendants’ acts or omissions caused excruciating pain to Plaintiff’s eyes, which stung for several days thereafter, as well as pain to her face, throat, lungs, hands, and feet. Defendants’ acts or omissions caused Plaintiff to suffer other physical and mental injury, including pain and suffering, humiliation, and other injuries, damages, and losses,” the suit claimed. “Defendants’ actions and omissions described herein were undertaken intentionally, maliciously, willfully, wantonly, and/or in reckless disregard of Plaintiff’s constitutionally protected rights, which entitles Plaintiff to punitive damages.”

The Colorado Springs Police Department reportedly confirmed the defendants are still employed but declined to comment on the case.

Read the filing here.

[Image via YouTube/screengrab]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.