AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – In a unanimous finding, the four members of Aurora’s Civil Service Commission have upheld the firing of Aurora Police Officer Levi Huffine. They said he ‘blatantly disregarded’ the safety and security of a female detainee who was handcuffed and hobbled in the back seat of his patrol car.
In a six page ruling released Tuesday afternoon, commission members said Huffine violated department directives during the transport of Shataeah Kelly, 28, on Aug. 27, 2019.
“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 that she is safe,” according to the ruling. “None of the other circumstances testified to by (Huffine), such as rush hour traffic, or obstructions in his vehicle, justified his inaction.”
Huffine took Kelly into custody saying she was fighting and being disruptive at an Aurora park. When Kelly was belligerent and abusive, her hands were cuffed behind her back and she was ‘hobbled,’ restricting her leg movement.
In the car ride to jail, Kelly slipped off the seat, which Huffine said was intentional, and had her head on the floorboards and her feet in the air for the 21-minute-long ride. She sobbed and screamed for help saying she couldn’t breathe, felt her neck was going to break and that she might die.
“Officer please, I can’t breathe,” said Kelly, according to videotape from inside the patrol car. “I don’t want to die like this. I’m about to break my neck.”
Although an internal police review board recommended a 180-hour suspension for Huffine, Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson fired him in February, reasoning that how Kelly was treated amounted to torture and the intentional infliction of punishment.
“That’s not what we are hired to do,” said Wilson during her testimony. “We are not judge, jury and executer. We are not to treat people inhumanely like they don’t matter and he is lucky she did not die in the back seat of his car.”
Huffine appealed that firing resulting in Tuesday’s decision. He testified last week that he was sorry and regretted what happened.
“That’s not me. I am not somebody who is out there to punish people. I’m sorry. It was a mistake, but I had no clue she was in an inverted position in the back seat of my car.”
Huffine said while he heard Kelly’s cries for help, he was focused on getting her to the jail quickly and never turned around or stopped to visually check on her position.
The Civil Service Commission wrote, “Huffine’s total disregard for the health and safety of Ms. Kelly during the transport reflects direct discredit on (Huffine). It reflects poorly on the Aurora Police Department that he was representing… (Huffine’s) demonstration of inhumanity to Ms. Kelly will undoubtedly bring the Department into direct disrepute in the eyes of the public as the video of what transpired is viewed by more and more of the public.”
Huffine now has 30 days to file an appeal with the courts. It is not clear if he will choose to take that path.
Chief Wilson released this statement:
— Chief Vanessa Wilson (@APDChiefWilson) October 6, 2020