DENVER (CBS4/AP) – An Aurora police officer fired for not helping a restrained Black woman who begged for help after she became lodged upside down in the back of his patrol car is appealing his termination. In a lawsuit filed last week, former Aurora officer Levi Huffine claims officials unfairly painted him as a racist even though there was no evidence that racial bias played a role in what happened.
Last month, four members of Aurora’s Civil Service Commission upheld the firing of Huffine.
In a story first reported by CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass, Huffine arrested Shataeah Kelly on Aug. 27, 2019, on municipal charges resulting from a fight. Commission members said Huffine violated department directives during the transport of Kelly, 28.
Chief Vanessa Wilson fired Huffine in February, overriding an advisory panel’s recommendation that he only be suspended.
“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.”
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.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)