The Aurora Civil Service Commission on Tuesday upheld the firing of an Aurora Police officer who was fired for driving for over 20 minutes with a constrained woman stuck upside-down in his patrol car.
Former Officer Levi Huffine ignored the cries of Shataeah Kelly, whose head was lodged behind the driver’s seat and feet were in the air. Kelly pleaded for the officer to help her for the entire drive, repeating that she couldn’t breathe and her neck felt like it would break.
The commission said Huffine “blatantly disregarded Ms. Kelly’s safety and security” in its decision letter.
“It is simply not acceptable to refuse to believe a detainee who is screaming for help, screaming ‘I can’t breathe; my neck is breaking,’ without making any effort to confirm she is safe,” the letter said.
The decision follows a three-day hearing in which Huffine’s body camera footage showed the hobbled Kelly crying for help while being driven to jail.
Kelly had been detained by Huffine on Aug. 27, 2019 for engaging in a fight at a park. The charges against Kelly were later dropped.
Huffine said he hobbled Kelly, cuffing her wrists and ankles behind her back, because she tried to get out of the patrol car. In the body camera footage, Kelly is seen berating the officer for restraining her while she lays on her stomach without a seat belt.
Soon, she slides off of the car seat headfirst, landing on her neck with her legs in the air.
She immediately tells Huffine she has fallen and asks for help up. After he ignores her, she begins to panic, crying and screaming saying that she cannot breathe and her neck is going to break. At one point, she addresses Huffine as “master” and promises to behave if he helps her.
“Please lift me up, officer, I beg you,” Kelly said in the footage. “Please don’t let me die back here.”
After arriving at the jail, the camera captures a female detention officer opening the door and saying “Honey, why are you head down like that?”
Kelly sobs and tells the officer that Huffine “was gonna kill me.”
What confronted by the detention officer, Huffine said, “she was in the seat but she decided she wanted to roll, so.”
APD Chief Vanessa Wilson fired Huffine in February, despite a disciplinary review board recommending that Huffine only be suspended for 180 hours.
In the commission’s decision letter, Chief Wilson calls the officer’s actions “egregious” and said he showed little remorse during the pre-disciplinary hearing.
The letter said Wilson “concluded she simply could not take the risk of putting him back on the street.”
“He’s lucky 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 told the commission last week.
During last Thursday’s commission hearing, Huffine said that he did not believe Kelly’s cries that she was in danger.
“It was a mistake but I had no clue she was in an inverted position in the backseat of my car,” Huffine said.
Kelly did not suffer any physical injuries.
As a result of the incident, APD now forbids officers from transporting detainees in hobbles in the back of patrol cars.