Table of Contents
A video shown during an appeal hearing for a fired officer shows him hogtying a woman, putting her in the back of a patrol car and ignoring her cries for help as she falls to the floorboard.
Aurora police officer Levi Huffine was fired after the August 2019 incident. He is appealing to the civil service commission to get his job back.
During Tuesday’shearing, the video shows Huffine placing Shataean Kelly, 28, in custody, KCNC reported. She was arrested “on municipal charges resulting from a fight,” according to the TV station.
Huffine testified before the civil service commission on Thursday and said he was sorry for what happened to Kelly during the 21-minute ride to the jail, according to KUSA.
“I’m sorry, it was a mistake, but I had no idea she was in an inverted position in the back of my car,” Huffine testified.
Huffine had placed his body camera in the back of the car when he took Kelly to jail, “partly to protect himself from Kelly, who had accused officers of targeting her for her race,” the Associated Press reported.
The civil service commission hearing is ongoing via Zoom.
What the video shows
After putting Kelly in handcuffs, Huffine placed her in the rear seat of his patrol car. It appeared that Kelly was trying to open the car doors while handcuffed, so the officer removed her and placed her on the ground.
“I have to hobble her,” he is heard saying.
Other officers held Kelly down while Huffine tied her handcuffed hands to her feet with a nylon rope. Then he and another officer lifted her up and placed her back inside the car.
Kelly, who said she was intoxicated, started berating Huffine.
After a few minutes, Kelly fell head first onto the floorboard. She began to cryand panic, yelling multiple times “please help,” and “my neck is about to break.”
“Hey, officer! I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe! Please help me, please!” Kelly cried out.
“Please hurry up and take me to jail, sir… my neck is killing me,” said Kelly, who is Black. “Please just hop out the car and pick me up that’s all I ask … you have me contained there’s nothing I can do. .. it hurts so bad … I’ve never felt so much racism in my life…”
Her pleas are ignored by Huffine for the 21-minute ride to the jail..
Police chief’s response
Aurora’s police chief testified she was “disgusted” with what she saw on the video..
“Every time, it seems to get worse,” Chief Vanessa Wilson testified. “That’s not what we’re hired to do. We’re not judge, jury and executor. We are not to treat people inhumanely like they don’t matter. And he is lucky that she did not die in the back seat of that car. Because he would be, in my opinion, in an orange jumpsuit right now.”
Wilson said the backseat’s door handles don’t open from the inside, so the hobbling was “inappropriate.” She said “the hobbling was another form of punishment.”
“We train on the fact that people can die, especially in a hobbled position,” Wilson said. “The most disturbing part is, as an African-American female, that she denigrates herself to the point where she … actually calls him master. That to me, is disgusting.”
Wilson fired Huffine in February for his actions, going against an advisory group’s recommendation that the officer be suspended, AP reported.
Aurora’s policy on hobbles
According to the Aurora Police Department’s policy on less lethal devices and weapons, hobbles are allowed to “be used to secure subject’s ankles in violent, combative and/or dangerous situations, or in those instances in which the officer reasonably believes the subject to be an escape risk,” according to policy DM 05.08.
Wilson said in her testimony that it was clear that Kelly was not struggling to the point that use of hobbles was warranted.
The policy notes that medical issues could arise if hobbles are used.
“When such systems are deployed, they may contribute to the potential for dangerous medical conditions for detainees, including but not limited to: excited delirium, positional asphyxia or exhaustive mania,” the policy states.
The policy also states that officers can’t “transport detainees in patrol vehicles while the detainee is restrained by [hobbles].”
Huffine’s attorney, Carrie Slinkard, argued the city had previously ignored concerns from officers about transporting hobbled detainees and only changed the policy after the incident, AP reported.
Arriving at jail
After Huffine arrives at the jail, a female jailer opens the door and asks Kelly, “Honey why are you head down like that?”
After struggling for a few minutes to reposition Kelly, the correctional officer turns to Huffine and says, “That didn’t look pleasant.”
“She was in the seat but she decided she wanted to roll, so,” Huffine responded.
“We took this job to serve and protect people. And if that doesn’t upset you, watching that video, if that doesn’t make you sick watching that video — it’s beyond human decency to me,” Wilson testified.
Because the hearing is ongoing, the police department declined to comment, Faith Goodrich, a spokeswoman for the agency, told McClatchy in an email.
A claim of racial injustice
The Kelly arrest was not the only one involving police and a Black person in August 2019.
On Aug. 24, three days before Kelly was arrested, 23-year-old Elijah McClain was reported as acting suspicious and was confronted by Aurora police. He was restrained, and one of the officers put McClain in a carotid hold that restricts blood flow to the brain, according to The New York Times.
McClain could be heard saying, “I can’t breathe, please stop.” He later died.
No officers were fired over McClain’s death, though three officers who were seen in a photo mocking the stranglehold used on McClain were fired, according to media reports.
McClain’s death brought the department under intense scrutiny, which was renewed after the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, who died after a police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes.
Wilson vowed to regain the community’s trust, AP reported.
The civil service commission will likely not make a decision on Huffine’s appeal for at least another week, AP reported.