Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
When Brady Mistic, a deaf man living in Idaho Springs, Colorado, was pulled over by local police one night in 2019, he tried to signal that he couldn’t hear officers’ commands. But the cops on the scene allegedly misinterpreted his sign language as disrespect, tased him multiple times, and slammed him to the ground.
Ultimately, Mistic spent four months in jail, where he was allegedly denied an interpreter, before all charges against him were dropped.
Two years after the September 2019 encounter, Mistic is now suing the two officers from the Idaho Springs Police Department, the city, and the county board of commissioners for use of excessive force, failing to recognize that he had a disability, and wrongfully incarcerating him.
“Mr. Mistic cried out saying, ‘No ears,’” the lawsuit reads. “Defendant Summers ignored Mr. Mistic’s plea and then tased Mr. Mistic a second time. Defendants knew or should have known by Mr. Mistic’s lack of speech, hand gestures, and/or thick-tongued articulation of the words “no ears” that he was deaf and could not hear or understand the officers.”
The arrest all started when Mistic allegedly ran past a stop sign about a block away from his destination, after which police began to follow him. But having no idea that he was being trailed by police, Mistic eventually pulled into the parking lot of a laundromat. The police parked on the opposite side of a dumpster, which would have obscured the cops from his vision.
“As Mr. Mistic exited his car and walked past a dumpster in between his vehicle and the police vehicle, toward the laundry door, he was blinded by police vehicle lights and a spotlight shone by the officers,” the lawsuit reads. “He could only vaguely see objects and a police vehicle in front of him.”
As Mistic stood several feet from the police, officer Ellie Summers, who was a trainee at the time, can be heard asking Mistic to stay in his car on police body-camera footage, obtained by Colorado NBC News affiliate 9News.
“You’re gonna come up on us like that?” another, now former officer, Nicholas Hanning, is heard saying in the footage as Mistic stops in his tracks with his hands up. (Hanning was fired earlier this year for his involvement in another brutal arrest of a 75-year-old man.)
The deaf man tried to communicate with the officers without advancing, the lawsuit alleges, but the officers didn’t understand. They slammed him to the ground, causing Mistic to bash his head against the concrete, according to the lawsuit.
In audio from the police bodycam, Summers can be heard telling Mistic, who was prone on the ground, that he would be tased if he didn't put his arms behind his back. Obviously unable to comply, a taser can be heard seconds after the command.
It was only after Mistic was handcuffed that Summers realized he was deaf. Mistic was later taken to the hospital by EMS who arrived on the scene of the arrest. During the commotion, Hanning sustained a broken ankle, which he says was caused by Mistic. But Mistic’s attorney argues that Hanning caused his own injury and accuses the police of trying to use the injury to cover up their own mishandling of the arrest.
In additional bodycam footage from the hospital visit, Summers and Mistic recount the events from earlier in the night with the assistance of an interpreter.
“When I got pulled over, I tried to come because the light was in my face and it scared me,” he says in American Sign Language on the footage. “I couldn’t see and I didn’t like that and I was frustrated. I came over to see what was going on. To me? Thought it was someone else. I didn’t know I was the one.”
Summers tells him that regardless of the confusion, he would be booked into Clear Creek County jail after he’s discharged from the hospital and face charges of resisting arrest and second-degree assault related to Hanning’s ankle injury.
Officers later found movie-prop money in Mistic’s wallet while booking him and tacked on an additional charge of possession of forged currency, despite him never trying to pass off the fake cash as legal tender.
Though all of the charges related to the arrest were eventually dropped, Mistic says he was often left helpless during the four months he spent in jail; police failed to provide an interpreter to communicate over the inmate telephone system, hindering his ability to talk to family, attorneys, or a bail bondsman. He relied almost exclusively on pen-and-paper communication, but the lawsuit says that both were “sparingly provided to him.”
“Mr. Mistic felt alone, confused, and helpless to understand or interact effectively in the jail environment or with the outside world,” the lawsuit says. “He was frustrated that he could not explain that the Defendant officers had misunderstood his behavior, used force without justification. and that he was innocent.”
In a statement, the Idaho Springs Police Department stood by its officers. Even though it acknowledges that officers didn’t know Mistic was deaf, they say that he resisted arrest.
“The incident was reviewed by former Chief Christian Malanka, and the officers’ actions were deemed to be appropriate,” the department statement reads. The department said it will not comment further on the case due to pending litigation.
One of the officers involved, Hanning, is already facing third-degree assault charges in relation to the arrest of 75-year-old Michael Clark back in May. During the arrest, which occurred at Clark’s home, Hanning allegedly tased the senior and caused enough damage to his heart to require surgery.