Several citizens gathered in front of the Fort Collins City Hall on April 18 to rally against police brutality in response to a viral video of Colorado State University student and Gamma Phi Beta sorority member Michaella Surat being thrown to the ground and arrested.
The protest was organized on behalf of concerned citizens and students by Kwon Atlas, a recent CSU graduate and mayoral candidate, and CSU students Juan Caro and Emily Faulkner of the Conservative Interest Group.
While over 50 citizens were expected to attend, a smaller turnout of around 30 citizens came to protest. The rally organizers said they are not associated with any Greek organizations at CSU.
The event’s Facebook page clarified that the rally was not aimed towards Surat’s arrest, but rather to the force used by the officer, identified as Randall Klasmer, in the video.
“The question is not whether (or not) she deserved to be charged and arrested,” the event organizers wrote on Facebook. “The question here is: did the officer use excessive force in the legal arrest of Michaella?”
During citizens participation, Caro said that the City needs to set an example.
“This is a politically charged issue,” Caro said. “We’ve seen issues in United Airlines, Greeley and now Fort Collins. It’s up to us to set an example.”
Current President of the Associated Students of Colorado State University Daniela Pineda Soracá also spoke to the council during citizens’ participation.
“Upon hearing and seeing with my own eyes the event that took place in Old Town… members of the student body feel that this could have been any one of us,” Soracá said. “We’re not here to argue whether she was in the right or wrong, but the force was completely unacceptable.”
Also present was Tina Chavez, a Greeley resident who said that her daughter Nina was a victim of police brutality. Chavez said that her daughter’s arm was broken in three places when police arrested her as she was coming home from a party last year.
“Michaella brought me here today. Having a daughter who was a victim of police brutality, I thought it was important for me to support her. I’m hoping for police accountability in our cities and streets,” Chavez said.
Council member Ray Martinez said he appreciated the sharing of sentiments and assured citizens that the issue will be handled accordingly. Council members Kristin Stephens, Ross Cunniff and Gerry Horak echoed Martinez’s remarks.
“It’s very easy for other young women to picture themselves in the shoes of the young woman in question (Surat). We will take a look at this,” Stephens said.
Speaking on Good Morning America, Surat said that the arrest maneuver left her with injuries such as bruises, a concussion and difficulty eating. She also said that she feels humiliated that the video had attracted so much online attention.
Surat was also a member of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority. Although requested by their International Executive Council not to comment on the issue, an anonymous member voiced her concern over the manner of arrest during a previous interview with the Collegian. Despite the gag order, seven members of the sorority were at the protest. All Gamma Phi Beta members chose to remain anonymous.
“I think this went a lot better than it could have,” said one anonymous member. “Coming here and seeing all of the support we had from other sisters and members of the community was really wonderful.”
“I would say the fight’s not over,” said another anonymous member.
“It’s not just a Fort Collins thing, it’s a national thing. I think that standing up and fighting for equal representation and having everyone be held accountable for their actions is super important,” said one more member.
Surat was arrested the evening of April 6. Fort Collins Police Services initially responded to an altercation between two men at Bondi Beach Bar in Old Town. One of the men involved was reportedly Surat’s boyfriend. Surat was also at the scene.
The Coloradoan reported that although Surat was free to leave, she allegedly struck and obstructed an officer before being arrested by Officer Klasmer, who used the standard arrest procedure. The video shows Surat being thrown to the ground face-first. Surat was charged with third-degree assault and obstructing a police officer. She has since posted her bond and is due in court this Wednesday.
As a partial response to Surat’s arrest among a set of other controversies, Fort Collins Police Chief John Hutto announced his resignation on Tuesday, effective May 12. According to a statement released the same day by the FCPS, Hutto’s sudden resignation comes as a result of controversies in the recent months in addition to Surat’s arrest. Last January, the FCPS settled a $425,000 racial discrimination lawsuit within the police force.
Council member Martinez announced Thursday that Officer Klasmer was placed on administrative leave. Hutto confirmed the action later that day. The leave is not disciplinary in nature and comes as a result of the public’s response.
In a statement released on April 9, Hutto wrote that footage of the arrest was also captured on the officers’ body cameras, but will not be released until the investigation concludes. The FCPS anticipates that the investigation will conclude in six weeks, depending on the availability of the Citizens Review Board. In a press release to the Collegian, the FCPS wrote that they are “committed to protecting the integrity of the criminal investigation and Ms. Surat’s right to a fair trial.”
Collegian news reporter Gabriel Go can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rgabrielgo.