Carbondale man sues City Market over police encounter on Christmas Eve 2020 that he says was racially-motivated |

Carbondale man sues City Market over police encounter on Christmas Eve 2020 that he says was racially-motivated

Michael Francisco, center, outside Carbondale Town Hall in April 2021 with his then-attorney, Michael Edminister, left, and supporters.
John Stroud/Post Independent

A Carbondale man — whose high-profile Christmas Eve 2020 arrest at the local City Market grocery store sparked community outrage — has filed a race-discrimination lawsuit against the grocery chain.

Michael Francisco has retained the civil-rights law firm Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP of Denver. The firm’s Carbondale-based attorney Michael Fairhurst on Wednesday filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Denver.

The case is based on Carbondale City Market staff and Carbondale police forcibly removing Francisco from the store on Dec. 24, 2020, because of his race, Fairhurst said in a news release. 

Francisco is Black and wears a Rastafarian headdress called a tam. He is well-known in Carbondale for his Sunday reggae music show on community radio station KDNK. 

He said the police encounter — and his subsequent arrest after he was wrestled to the floor by police officers in the self-checkout area — was a gross misunderstanding and a matter of miscommunication when an employee at the outdoor gas-station kiosk mistook his hand gesture as a threat and alerted store management before he went inside the main store.

Francisco said it was a friendly “point” to a fellow frontline City Market employee during the height of the pandemic when there was a lot of concern for employee health safety. Francisco worked as an employee at the Aspen City Market location.

He maintained afterward that the situation could have easily been handled and the misunderstanding explained without involving police. At no time was he asked by store personnel to leave the store, he said, and was only requested to do so when police arrived.

The incident led to resisting arrest and disorderly conduct charges against Francisco, which were ultimately dropped by the town’s prosecuting attorney. The store’s actions were a violation of his civil rights, the lawsuit claims.

“This is a case with facts that could have come straight out of the Jim Crow era,” Fairhurst said in the release. “If Mr. Francisco was white, he would have had a completely ordinary shopping experience at the Carbondale City Market on Christmas Eve 2020. But, because Mr. Francisco is black, City Market staff and the Carbondale police forcibly ejected him from the store in handcuffs.” 

Fairhurst said Francisco did nothing that could have conceivably justified his removal from the store, and that Francisco’s abuse at the defendants’ hands was especially traumatizing. He noted that Francisco had never been convicted of a criminal offense in his life.

The lawsuit names City Market and its parent company, the Kroger Company, as well as an employee at the time, Tia Walker, who allegedly instigated the confrontation by involving the police.

The town and Carbondale Police are not named in the suit. Instead, Fairhurst said in a followup interview on Thursday that they have entered into a separate tolling agreement with the Carbondale Police Department and will seek an out-of-court mediated settlement with the police for its role in the incident.

“We think there is plenty of blame to go around, including the town of Carbondale and the police,” Fairhurst said. “But, we have decided to try to resolve that case out of court.”

He said attempts to have a similar dialogue with City Market short of filing a lawsuit were unsuccessful. City Market officials have not responded to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Francisco said he was just a normal City Market customer the night of his arrest.

“All I wanted to do was buy juice and soup at City Market,” he said in the release. “I had the same right to a peaceful shopping trip as the many white customers in the store who City Market staff and the Carbondale police left alone.”

Police body camera and store surveillance video obtained by the Post Independent at the time showed Francisco being approached by police officers in the checkout area and appearing to be caught off guard. After repeatedly saying he did nothing wrong and that it was all a misunderstanding, Francisco refuses to show his ID, prompting police to restrain him.

“I did nothing wrong that night,” he added. “As a black man, I know racism is still alive and well in America. Yet, even I never expected to be forcibly kicked out of a grocery store while I was trying to buy my groceries because of my race. It is heartbreaking.”

Following his arrest, numerous members of the public showed up at his municipal court hearings and held rallies outside Carbondale Town Hall in the spring of 2021, calling for the charges to be dropped.

The lawsuit seeks monetary and other compensatory damages as well as demanding a jury trial.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.