The Aurora police officer who “hobbled” 28-year-old Shataeah Kelly in August 2019 and placed her in the backseat of his cruiser for a 20-minute car ride, is in the process of appealing his firing, CBS News reported.
Levi Huffine was fired for the incident in February of 2020 by the then-interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson; Wilson’s firing went above the Aurora Police Department’s disciplinary review board’s recommendation of a 180-hour suspension, the Associated Press reported.
The video of Kelly’s ordeal was released Tuesday, September 29, CBS News reported.
“If that doesn’t upset you watching that video, if that doesn’t make you sick watching that video, I don’t know. 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 said during his appeal hearing before Aurora’s civil service commission, according to a Cox Media Group news station.
Kelly said that she felt Huffine’s firing was a matter of justice being served, while Huffine said that the chief had character-assassinated him.
Warning, this story contains some disturbing footage.
Video Footage Shows Kelly Become Increasingly Panicked as She Slides Upside-Down
Kelly told KDVR that she was drinking near a library and was punched by a woman who tried to start a fight with her. As a result, she called 911. Kelly admitted to the news station that she was combative with Huffine when he started to arrest her and said it was because she felt that he had refused to recognize that she was the caller.
“I threw a temper tantrum about him arresting me,” she told KDVR. “I was like, ‘You guys have the wrong person. You need to let me go. I’m in school. I have worked three or four jobs. I have my own apartment after coming from being homeless.’”
CBS News reported that when she tried to tell him he had the wrong person, he told her to “shut up.” According to what Kelly told KDVR, after she tried to kick the windows in Huffine’s patrol car, he bound her feet together and also connected her handcuffed hands to the mechanism keeping her feet together in a method called “hobbling.”
When he initially puts her on her side in the squad car, Kelly says, “Are you really going to leave me like this?” After falling over, Kelly pleads with him to pick her up, telling him, “I can’t breathe.”
The video shows several moments where Kelly is trying to get his attention. Here is some of what she said while upside down with her head on the floorboard of the squad car:
Officer please, I can’t breathe.
I don’t want to die like this. I’m about to break my neck.
My neck is killing me, dude. Help me, I can’t breathe.
“I don’t want to die like this, officer . . . I’m a good person I’m just under the influence.”
“This is some slavery sh*t. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry God … It hurts so bad … Please don’t let me die back here.”
I never felt so much racism in my life.
This is some slavery s***.
Master, I’ll be good
How many times I gotta beg you master?
At the detention center, a female officer who seemed concerned about her positioning asks, “Honey, why are you head down like that?” Kelly told the officer several times that Huffine was going to kill her, leading the officer to tell Huffine “that didn’t look pleasant.” Huffine blamed Kelly for intentionally rolling off the seat.
Kelly told KDVR that she felt like a slave at some points during the encounter. “Twenty-one minutes is a long time to be up under a car seat, shackled, and you can’t get yourself up, and your neck is half crushed,” she said. “I even called him master. I really felt like a slave that day.”
CBS News reported that all charges against Kelly had been dropped and KDVR reported that the practice of “hobbling” people in custody in squad cars has since been ended.
Huffine Said He Was Remorseful During a Hearing to Appeal His Firing
Huffine, after his firing, appealed to the four-person civil commission in hopes of being reinstated.
Huffine told the commissioners that he was remorseful for how he had treated Kelly, according to a Denver CBS affiliate. “I do think it was serious. I did feel remorse, I do feel remorse,” Huffine said, adding, “I do regret it.”
Here’s what else he said about his actions:
Looking back in hindsight, I’m very remorseful that I continued and I made the choices, but I didn’t know she was in that position. I’m sorry. It was a mistake. But I had no clue she was in an inverted position in the backseat of my car. I was relying on my instinct and training and it happened. There’s nothing I can do to change that.
As he was being cross-examined by City Attorney Isabelle Evans, CBS News reported Huffine admitted that he could hear Kelly screaming and even calling him “master” in attempts to get his help. However, he said that he didn’t respond because he believed she was not in serious need of assistance.
Huffine was roundly criticized by the chief who fired him, Wilson. Wilson told commissioners that she expected better from her officers, CBS News reported.
That is not what we’re hired to do. We are not judge, jury and executor. We are not to treat people inhumanely like they don’t matter. [Huffine] is lucky that she did not die in the backseat of that car because he would be, in my opinion, in an orange jumpsuit right now. This is not what I expect from my officers.
Wilson also said hearing Kelly call him “master” was particularly disturbing, the Cox Media Group station reported. “As an African American female that she denigrates herself to the point that, where she is so asking for help that she doesn’t know what to do, that she actually calls him ‘master’ — that to me is disgusting,” she said.
Huffine referred to Wilson’s comments as “character assassination,” CBS News reported. “I am not the person that was painted by the chief of an officer who inhumanely treats prisoners,” he said. “It was character assassination is what I would consider it. That is not me. I am not somebody who is out there to punish people. That is not my position. I’m out there to protect, to protect the individuals who need us the most.”
Kelly said that she believed Wilson was right to fire Huffine and told a local TV station KDVR, “Chief, if you hear me, you’re doing the right thing. I really appreciate you hearing my story. You understand where my heart was. You understand that wrong is wrong and right is right.”
While watching the video of her arrest, Kelly said it made her cry and she was shocked that she was treated that way. “I was just crying. I mean, bawling tears like if somebody had just died,” she said. “I am so numb inside. It feels like I’m actually dead, you know what I mean? Because (of) the pain that I felt watching the video.”
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