AURORA, Colo. — A Colorado police force already under scrutiny for the August 2019 in-custody death of Elijah McClain is under fire again after camera footage released Tuesday showed that a white officer hogtied a Black woman in his patrol car and left her like that for over 20 minutes, even as she called him “master” and begged him to lift her from the floorboard.
Shataeah Kelly’s alleged mistreatment by former Aurora police Officer Levi Huffine took place Aug. 27, as McClain fought for his life in a hospital intensive care unit. McClain, who was placed in a chokehold and injected with ketamine during an Aug. 24 confrontation with police, died Aug. 30.
McClain was stopped as he walked home from a convenience store because someone had reported him walking and waving his hands in the air. McClain was listening to music when officers found him.
Kelly was arrested outside a public library after she called 911 and complained about a man who had approached her aggressively, according to KDVR in Denver. Kelly, who admitted she’d been drinking that day, was shocked with a Taser after Huffine and other officers said she became combative.
The video, which was showed publicly Tuesday at the start of a Zoom hearing in which Huffine appealed his firing, picks up a few moments after the Taser was used. The footage shows officers placing Kelly in handcuffs and putting her in the back of Huffine’s patrol car.
Kelly, wearing a bright blue shirt, can be seen sliding back and forth on the cruiser’s rear seat. Huffine opens the door and tells her she would be “hobbled,” or secured with cuffs linking her hands and feet behind her back, for trying to escape.
KDVR reported that Aurora police Chief Vanessa Wilson pointed out to the Civil Service Commission that the doors were locked and Kelly could not escape.
Huffine places Kelly on her side on the back seat. Incredulous, she asks him, “Please, you’re gonna make me ride the whole way like this?”
“Yes, I am,” Huffine responds.
Kelly soon slips head-first from the seat.
“Hey, my head is about to break, bro,” she tells Huffine.
Now upside down, she begins screaming for help.
“Please lift me up, officer,” Kelly cries, telling him multiple times that she cannot breathe. “I can’t get up, Officer! Officer, please don’t let me die right here!”
Watch the raw video footage below, courtesy of 9News in Denver. Warning: The footage is disturbing.
As her head remains on the floor behind Huffine’s driver’s seat, Kelly pleads with him for help, telling him that her neck hurts. She apologizes and promises that she will be cooperative.
“How many times do I have to beg you, master?” Kelly asks at one point. “Master, I’ll be good.”
Kelly’s cries go unheeded throughout the 21-minute ride to the jail, where a female detention officer appears startled to find Kelly in that position.
“Honey, why are you head-down like that?” the jailer asks.
“Cause he wouldn’t let me up,” Kelly says, weeping.
After getting Kelly into a better position, the jailer comments on what she’d seen.
“That didn’t look pleasant. At all,” she tells Huffine as she walks around the back of the patrol car to the other side.
Huffine blames Kelly for what happened.
“She was in the seat, but she decided she wanted to roll,” he says.
As the jailer removes a now angry Kelly from the car, she confronts Huffine.
“Look at me, dude. You couldn’t lift me up?” Kelly says.
Wilson overruled the recommendation and fired Huffine in February, while she was serving as interim chief.
“If that doesn’t upset you watching that video, if that doesn’t make you sick watching that video, I don’t know,” Wilson told commission members Tuesday. “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.”
Watch KDVR’s report on the hearing below.
Kelly told KDVR that she was numb after seeing the camera footage of herself for the first time.
“I was just crying. I mean, bawling tears like if somebody had just died,” Kelly said. “It feels like I’m actually dead, you know what I mean? Because (of) the pain that I felt watching the video.”
Wilson testified Tuesday that during a pre-disciplinary meeting with her, Huffine referred to Kelly as “just another drunk.” The chief said, for her, the most haunting part of the video was when a frantic Kelly called Huffine “master.”
“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,” Wilson said.
Wilson has since revised departmental policy to ban officers transporting hobbled suspects in their patrol cars, KDVR reported.
The Civil Service Commission is expected to rule on Huffine’s case sometime this month.
Wilson, who was appointed police chief Aug. 4 amid the continuing controversy over McClain’s death, has vowed to restore public trust in the department following the McClain case and the treatment of several Black children who were forced onto the ground at gunpoint last month following a mix-up over a stolen vehicle.
The children were ages 6, 12, 14 and 17. Two of the children were handcuffed.
Kelly said she was grateful that Wilson chose to fire Huffine, telling KDVR that the chief understands that “wrong is wrong and right is right.”
“I never knew how bad a heart could feel until I watched that video, and I was like, ‘How could you treat another person like that?’” Kelly told the news station. “Animals don’t even deserve to be treated like that, and what you did was you treated me less than the dirt on the ground.”
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