Durango police release bodycam footage after accusation of brutality

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The facts seem straightforward enough. The Durango Police Department received a call on Valentine’s Day that a man wanted on a warrant for sexual assault out of Montezuma County was inside The Boarding Haus snowboard and skate shop on Main Avenue in downtown Durango.

The caller, a close family member, warned police that the man – 19-year-old Samuel Keon Potterton of Telluride – would resist arrest. And he did.

That’s the straightforward part. Then came the accusation of police brutality by a passerby on her lunch break, who stopped on the sidewalk and watched as five police officers surrounded Potterton as he was led in handcuffs out of the shop and into the back of a waiting patrol car.

Christa Turnell emailed The Durango Herald shortly after witnessing the arrest.

“I see egregious police violence against maybe a homeless man who was inside the door of a business,” Turnell wrote. “... What the problem was is irrelevant. It was ONE man and there were five cops. They had his arms pinned elbows up in violation of the Geneva Convention and simple good policing.”

Turnell went on to question the need for five police officers to arrest one “little guy” and wrote, “I was yelling at them to stop because civilized people don’t beat people up ever.” She added that even if the suspect was wanted for murder, why should five guys beat the guy? Turnell ended the email by accusing the police of wasting tax dollars and called for the officers involved to either be cut from the force or “show” why it was happening.

The Durango Herald contacted the police department about the brutality accusation. The DPD responded by inviting the Herald to review and share with readers all the bodycam footage collected from the officers involved, while also explaining its reasoning for sending five officers to arrest Potterton.

“Obviously it’s a hot topic going on around the country right now with the Memphis incident and everything else, but every time, every single time we use force it’s going to shock the conscience, and it’s going to look bad anytime you lay hands on another human being,” said Deputy Police Chief Brice Current. “If you have any humanity, it's not going to sit well.”

Bodycam footage from the second officer to arrive at The Boarding Haus shows one officer already in the store. A third and fourth officer arrive before they approach and advise Potterton that he is under arrest. Police manage to get one of his wrists cuffed before he begins to struggle. The officers then constrain him without inflicting or receiving any blows as they lower him slowly to the floor.

Potterton curses and threatens to kill them as he continues to struggle. Police advise him to stay cool and calm and stop fighting as they work to reposition him face down and cuff the other wrist. Two police officers hold his legs, while another holds his torso down with his hands. A fifth officer, a supervisor, has arrived to oversee the arrest.

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