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Changes at CSPD after man wrongly arrested for carrying gun

By Lindsay Watts, Weekend GMC Anchor/Target 13 Investigator , l.watts@krdo.com
Published On: Nov 21 2012 12:21:19 AM CST
Updated On: Nov 22 2012 03:53:56 PM CST

Policy changes have been made at the Colorado Springs Police Department after the mistaken arrest of a man because he was carrying an open gun. It's still not clear if officers were disciplined.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -

Policy changes have been made at the Colorado Springs Police Department after the mistaken arrest of a man who was carrying an unconcealed weapon. It's still not clear if officers were disciplined.

In July, James Sorensen was stopped by officers while he was attending the city's gay pride festival. When officers told him he was not allowed to be carrying an open gun in a city park, he began arguing that the officers were incorrect. He ended up being handcuffed, taken to the police station and jailed for over an hour. You can view what happened here.

The four CSPD sergeants, Lance Lazoff, Tim Stankey, Roger Vargasen and Larry Morgan, and three officers, Joe Brown, Clay Sunada, and Bob Peltz, who were involved in the incident were all unaware that carrying a gun in a city park is perfectly legal, and has been since gun laws changed statewide in 2003.The court summons against Sorensen was dismissed two days later after police realized their mistake.

After four months, a CSPD internal investigation into what happened has been completed.

On Tuesday, Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey refused an on-camera interview with TARGET 13, but said in a statement, "Policy violations were discovered and appropriate administrative action was taken."

A CSPD spokesperson said the department would not comment on whether officers had been disciplined because it was a "personnel matter," and information not required to be released under the Colorado Open Records Act.

"They humiliated me in public so we should be able to find out what happened to them," said Sorensen. "I think what myself and other people are looking for is, 'What happened to these officers?' How can they treat civilians that way and get away with it?"

Chief Carey said there has been policy changes at the department since the mistake occurred, and acknowledged an error in a CSPD manual regarding the law on guns in city parks.

At the time of Sorensen's arrest, the manual, or so-called officer "cheat sheet," indicated the almost decade-old ordinance prohibiting guns in city parks was still in effect. The error was corrected soon after.

"The department made updates to reference guides used and instituted more periodic reviews of these documents," Carey said.

TARGET 13 also learned that CSPD created a committee to conduct "a thorough line-by-line review of the manual," and make sure that all legislative and municipal ordinance changes are updated in the future.

Sorensen said he wants a public apology from all of the officers involved in the incident. He said he doesn't know if he'll pursue a lawsuit, but confirmed that he hired an attorney.

TARGET 13 obtained copies of the internal affairs interviews done with all six officers. They said they were unaware of the change in the gun law, and some said they had referred to the"cheat sheet" when Sorensen was arrested.

Sgt. Larry Morgan, who told Sorensen: "You're about to get the s**t kicked out of you," when Sorensen twice refused to put his hands in the air, was asked about his threat.

"It was necessary," Morgan said. "It was effective and it worked, period."

Morgan was also asked why he only relied on the "cheat sheet" when charging Sorensen, and didn't try to look up the municipal ordinance to find out specific details about the charge. He said he "didn't have time for that."

Another sergeant interviewed, Tim Stankey, said this of what happened:

"Officer safety-wise? There was some things that we didn't do correctly. We could have done a lot better. I think it comes back to the fact that we were hoping this was going to be a 10 second contact and that he was going to basically be told what the ordinance was, or what we thought it was at the time, and that he would comply and we would be done. We didn't think it was going to go down this route."

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, who called for an "expedited review" of the incident did not respond to TARGET 13's request for an interview. In his statement, Chief Carey said, "The Mayor was fully briefed on the results of the CSPD investigation and the changes in policy, and is comfortable this situation will not occur again. "

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