Footage released by the Aurora Police Department during a civil service commission appeal hearing on Sept. 29 shows former Officer Levi Huffine “punishing” a Black woman in police custody by leaving her hogtied in a face-down position in the back of a patrol car in the Denver, Colorado, suburb for 21 minutes.
Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said the car video shows that Huffine “tortured” the woman, adding that she was disgusted by the footage.
Shataean Kelly, 28, was arrested on municipal charges following a fight on Aug. 27, 2019. Bodycam footage shows that Huffine hogtied Kelly’s hands to her feet after he claimed she attempted to escape by trying to open the locks in the back of the cruiser.
Wilson said that the locks in the back of the cruiser do not open and restraining Kelly in that way was unnecessary.
“The hobbling in my opinion was another form of punishment,” said Wilson.
During the drive to the jail, Kelly slipped off the seat with her hands and feet still cuffed together behind her back, and wound up pinned to the floor of the vehicle in a face-down position.
An internal investigation found that Kelly remained in that position for 21 minutes. She pleaded with Huffine for help during the trip.
“Please help me up, officer! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe, officer!”
Wilson said Kelly could have died from positional asphyxia.
“I’m about to break my neck,” she cried out as she was pinned on her face with her hips above her head. “I don’t want to die like this!”
Huffine never responded to Kelly’s pleas.
“In my opinion she was just tortured back there. It makes me sick,” said Wilson after watching the video on Tuesday. “We are not judge, jury and [executioner],” said Wilson. “We are not to treat people inhumanely like they don’t matter.”
At one point, Kelly referred to Huffine as “master,” saying: “I beg you, master,” while pleading with him for help.
“As an African-American female she denigrates herself to the point she actually calls him ‘master.’ To me that is disgusting,” said Wilson.
Charges against Kelly related to her arrest have been dropped.
Officials considered bringing charges against Huffine but decided against it because Kelly was not seriously injured. He was fired by Wilson in February, six months after the incident, after the chief overruled the review board’s recommendation that Huffine receive a 180-hour suspension. At the time, the details surrounding Huffine’s termination were not revealed, and the department did not specify beyond saying he was fired over “severe misconduct.”
The ongoing hearing that commenced after Huffine appealed his termination will result in a decision made by the city’s four-person civil service commission, who will decide whether Huffine should keep his job. Huffine claimed he was too short to be able to see what was happening in the back seat during the drive to the jail.
University of Colorado Denver professor of criminal justice Dr. Paul Taylor testified at the hearing and said it is not a good practice to keep a person hobbled without a seatbelt on. “There is a tendency for people to people either roll off or fall of the seat and onto the floorboard,” he said.
Wilson said Huffine is lucky Kelly did not die, becuse otherwise he would be “in an orange jumpsuit right now.”
Huffine is scheduled to testify again on Oct. 1.