COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Members of the Colorado Springs Fellowship Church allege that officers in the Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) ignored their reports of theft and possession of a firearm, and instead started a "one-sided investigation" against the church. The predominantly black church believes its members were targeted for their religion and race.
In a federal lawsuit filed last week against CSPD and District Attorney Michael Allen, the church members say they were trying to help a family in need, the situation turned hostile and when the church called police, the officers "ignored the evidence."
The 23-page lawsuit accuses CSPD and the El Paso County DA's office of violating church members civil and religious rights.
Church Vice President Lamont Banks spoke with 13 Investigates about the case.
"It was so outrageous, so without merit, we felt that this was a personal attack against the church and its parishioners," Banks said.
The case centers around what happened at an apartment the church paid for and let a struggling family stay at. Members of the church claim that they helped a family with housing and provided them a car to use.
However, in August 2020, the Fellowship Church learned that the family was in violation of the lease for related to threatening someone in the apartment complex with a gun and "interfering with, disturbing, or threatening the rights, comfort, health, safety, convenience, quiet enjoyment, management, and use of the community by us, other residents and occupants and any of their guests, agents, invitees, or the general public."
The church said it advised the family of the lease violation and gave them a 30-day notice to move out, stating that they needed to leave the $20,000 worth of furniture and other church property inside when they left. When the 30 days passed, the family was still there. Church members went to the property to change the locks. The lawsuit claims the family granted them permission to enter the apartment.
Shortly after, the lawsuit says tenant Nicholas Gainer reportedly went to the bedroom and returned "brandishing a firearm in a threatening and aggressive manner." The lawsuit says Gainer's son also threatened church members with a baseball bat, waving it around in a "threatening and violent manner."
The church members say in their lawsuit that they left and called police, giving them the report of what happened. The plaintiffs claim that when officers arrived, they conducted an investigation "with one goal only: to establish the named individual Plaintiffs ... had all committed violations of the Colorado penal statute, notwithstanding and ignoring any and all evidence to the contrary."
Several church members were charged with felony crimes including burglary and stalking related to that encounter at the apartment.
According to the lawsuit, the church members claim that CSPD Detective Brian Corrado "sought to expand his investigation with no legal, factual, or rational basis whatsoever into some fabricated allegations of financial mismanagement by the Colorado Springs Fellowship Church."
The church members also say that the CSPD officers didn't record audio on their body-worn cameras "for extended periods of time material to the investigation."
The suit claims that investigators ignored evidence that would have cleared the church members. At the same time, the lawsuit claims that police never fully investigated the report against Nicholas Gainer for prohibited use of a weapon or endangering the safety and welfare of a child, and no charges were filed against Gainer for the incident in August or for the alleged theft $20,000 of items from the church.
"They looked the other way and they did nothing. And to this day they have not been arrested. They have not been charged. That's unequal justice," Banks said.
An attorney for Colorado Springs Fellowship Church wrote, "Defendants racially profiled the Plaintiffs and assumed, at least partly, because of their race, that they presented an enhanced threat to public safety."
The church tells 13 Investigates it is fighting the criminal charges brought against its members. The lawsuit is asking for an unspecified amount of monetary relief and training for police and prosecutors to prevent a similar situation from happening again.
The 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office said it would be inappropriate to comment as the criminal case against the involved church members is ongoing. CSPD did not respond to our request for comment.