Newly released bodycam footage shows that an Aurora, Colorado, police officer ignored a Black woman’s desperate pleas for help after she landed on her neck in the backseat of his vehicle during a routine arrest.
The bodycam footage, released Tuesday, shows that officer Levi Huffine refused to help 28-year-old Shataeah Kelly during an arrest for trying to fight another woman at a park on Aug. 27, 2019. With her hands and feet cuffed in the backseat of his police cruiser, she ended up upside-down between the seats, and for 21 minutes she repeatedly begged the officer to help her back onto the seat, apologizing for her minor crimes and telling him that she can’t breathe.
“I don’t want to die like this. I’m about to break my neck,” she is heard saying through tears as the weight of her body is balanced entirely on her head. “Officer, please help me up, I can’t breathe. Help me out of this situation. I’ll be good.”
At one point, she even calls Huffine “master,” in hopes of getting some sympathy. Kelly isn’t removed from the compromising position until the patrol car arrives at the police station.
An Aurora city disciplinary review board considered bringing charges against Huffine, according to the Atlanta Black Star, but it dropped the idea because Kelly sustained no serious injuries. It was instead recommended that the officer be suspended for 180 hours. Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson overturned the decision, calling what happened to Kelly “torture,” and fired Huffine from the job in February. Huffine has since appealed and the Aurora Civil Service Commission will now decide whether Huffine’s termination will stick.
“It makes me sick. We are not judge, jury, and executioner,” Wilson testified during a Commission hearing Tuesday. “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.”
Huffine told the Civil Service Commission Wednesday that Kelly was acting disorderly and allegedly tried to escape the vehicle, which was why he cuffed her hands and feet. However, in an interview with local Fox affiliate KVDR in July, Kelly said she was thrashing in the backseat in an attempt to tell the officer that they were arresting the wrong person and that the other person involved in the dispute had started the altercation.
During Wednesday’s testimony, Huffine admitted to using a taser during the arrest, but the weapon had little effect. Finally, he admitted that he could have handled the arrest differently.
“I told her to shut up. I told her to be quiet,” he said after admitting he could have instead helped Kelly.
All charges against Kelly were later dropped.
Huffine’s testimony was cut short Wednesday and is set to continue on Thursday.
The video draws many similarities to the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man who sustained fatal spinal injuries while in police custody after cops ignored his inability to walk on his own following the arrest. Six of the officers involved in the arrest were initially suspended and charged, the officers were found not guilty or had the charges dropped.
Kelly’s arrest isn’t the first time the Aurora Police Department has been accused of negligence and using excessive force. Earlier this year, the department found itself at the center of the nationwide calls for police reform following the death of Elijah McClain, the 23-year-old unarmed Black man who was killed in police custody after being placed in a chokehold and given a dose of the drug ketamine. Like Kelly, bodycam footage later revealed that McClain repeatedly tried to convince them to let him go as he did not commit any crimes.