Family of Colorado Springs man who died during arrest by city Crisis Response Team files federal lawsuit

Colorado Springs police cruiser
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A Colorado Springs police cruiser.

The family of a Colorado Springs man who died while in the custody of police and members of the city's Crisis Response Team has filed a federal wrongful death and excessive force lawsuit calling for murder charges and a jury trial. It also calls for an unnamed sum to compensate for damages.

63-year-old Kevin Dizmang died in November of 2022 after his family called 9-1-1 for help, saying he was having a mental health episode and experiencing symptoms related to a "documented history of PTSD and schizophrenia."

The lawsuit says Dizmang was put into a chokehold while handcuffed, until he was unresponsive. Dizmang later died at a hospital. 

The suit cites an autopsy report that found Dizmang died of cardiopulmonary arrest and acute methamphetamine intoxication, among other factors, "in the setting of physical restraint." The document says the physical restraint contributed to Dizmang's death. The report also noted Dizmang had a high level of meth in his system and a history of pulmonary disease. 

An investigation by the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office said the responders were justified in their actions. Criminal charges at the local level were not filed.

Dizmang's death is part of a string of excessive force allegations involving the CSPD.

In Colorado Springs, Crisis Response Teams (CRT) respond to calls from the state crisis hotline as well as 9-1-1. The team is made up of a CSPD officer, a community health paramedic employed by the Colorado Springs Fire Department, and a mental health professional.

In an entry detailing the response to the 9-1-1 call for Dizmang, records from the Colorado Springs Police Blotter show that when the CRT team arrived, he was in the roadway. There was a "struggle," and he was handcuffed. Police said he then became unresponsive.  

The lawsuit, citing footage from a body camera worn by responding officers, says Colorado Springs Police Officer Sean Reed made several attempts to handcuff Dizmang "without giving him an opportunity to calm down and comply." It says Dizmang was in an "obviously stressed and panicked state" but never attempted to flee or be violent toward the responding personnel. 

The suit alleges the responding paramedic, Nick Fisher, "suddenly and violently" tackled Dizmang and put him in a "chokehold" while Reed handcuffed him. The claim alleges Dizmang was kept in the "chokehold" for 30 seconds and further held down while unresponsive and motionless. Carotid holds, which temporarily cut blood flow to the brain and usually render a person briefly unconscious, are banned in Colorado.

The suit goes on to say that further body camera footage shows Fisher laughed and bragged to a charge nurse about the way he tackled Dizmang while staff in the emergency room at Penrose Hospital attempted to save his life.

The lawsuit claims Officer Reed failed to intervene while Fisher used excessive force on Dizmang, despite his duty to do so as a peace officer.

Dizmang's family is being represented by national civil rights attorneys Harry Daniels and Bakari Sellers as well as Colorado attorney Kevin Mehr. Daniels and Sellers are also representing a 29-year-old Black man who was allegedly beaten by Colorado Springs police during a traffic stop last year. They have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the three officers involved in that case. The pair are also representing the family of a man who was shot and killed in Colorado Springs in an apparent hostage situation.

The Colorado Springs Police Department said it would not comment on pending litigation and referred to a joint statement released by CSPD and CSFD on Feb. 15, 2023.

"Anytime a community member dies, we are saddened at the loss of life. We take these events seriously and, in this case, had the Deadly Force Investigation Team, led by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, investigate this event. They then sent the case to the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office for review and determination of the reasonableness of the force that was used,” the statement said. “This exceeds the requirement by Colorado law, but we believe it is best for transparency and honest review for our community. We respect the ongoing process by the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and would refer you to them for further comment.”