AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said bodycam video released Tuesday appears to show one of her former officers, Levi Huffine, “punishing” a female prisoner who was handcuffed, hobbled and rode upside down in the back of a patrol car for more than 20 minutes following her arrest in August 2019.
“In my opinion she was just tortured back there. It makes me sick,” said Wilson after watching the video again Tuesday, during a civil service commission appeal hearing for Officer Levi Huffine, who was fired over the incident. “We are not judge, jury and executer,” said Wilson. “We are not to treat people inhumanely like they don’t matter.
“And he is lucky she did not die in the backseat of that car. Because he would be — in my opinion — in an orange jumpsuit right now,” said Wilson.
Huffine arrested Shataeah Kelly, 28, on Aug. 27, 2019, on municipal charges resulting from a fight. On his bodycam video, Officer Huffine decides to hobble Kelly — tying her handcuffed hands to her feet when he said she tried to escape from his patrol car by trying to open door handles in the backseat.
Wilson testified the door handles in the backseat are inoperable and in her opinion, hobbling Kelly was unnecessary. She said she felt Huffine was “punishing” the prisoner who had also been verbally abusive toward the officer.
“The hobbling in my opinion was another form of punishment,” said Wilson.
The video shows Kelly slipping off the backseat, head first, after a few minutes, as the officer was driving her to jail. She ended up with her head on the floor of the car and her legs in the air. She rode that way for 21 minutes, according to an internal affairs investigation. Wilson said Kelly could have easily died of positional asphyxia.
The video played Tuesday shows Kelly begging for help during the entire drive.
“Officer please, I can’t breathe,” says the woman. “I don’t want to die like this. I’m about to break my neck,” cries Kelly.
Officer Huffine does not appear to interact or respond to the nonstop cries for help. Kelly alternately screams, sobs and cries.
“My neck is killing me dude. Help me, I can’t breathe.”
At one point Kelly can be heard saying, “I never felt so much racism in my life.”
Chief Wilson said she lost count of how many times Kelly asked for help. Wilson said she was particularly struck at how panicked and desperate Kelly seemed to be at one point, saying, “I beg you master.”
Wilson said that was one of the most bothersome moments on the tape.
“As an African-American female she denigrates herself to the point she actually calls him ‘master.’ To me that is disgusting,” said Wilson.
In February, Wilson fired Huffine, even though a Chief’s Review Board had recommended a 180 hour suspension, which Wilson overruled.
Huffine has appealed his termination. When the hearing concludes, Aurora’s four member civil service commission will issue a written ruling either upholding the Huffine firing, or potentially giving him his job back with a lesser penalty.
Aurora dropped all criminal charges against Kelly.
During the hearing, Wilson said criminal charges were considered for Officer Huffine. She said she conferred with the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s office but the decision was ultimately made that since Kelly did not suffer serious injuries or die during the ride to jail, criminal charges were not called for.
“If that doesn’t make you sick watching that video, I don’t know,” said Wilson.
“It’s beyond human decency for me,” said the chief. “It’s unacceptable. I don’t know what else to say.”