More Fallout Over Excessive Use of Force by Florida Police

There is more fallout this week over the alleged use of excessive force by two Tallahassee, Florida, police officers.

Last month, Tallahassee, Fla. police arrested 44-year-old Christina West for allegedly driving drunk after she crashed her SUV into a house with three foreign-exchange students in the backseat. The arrest quickly turned violent, however, with West suffering a broken cheekbone, among other injuries. Since the arrest, West has had two surgeries to repair the damage.

West plans to sue the Tallahassee Police Department for unwarranted brutality brought on by the police.

Charges that she assaulted the officers that night have already been dropped by the state attorney, and the two officers, Chris Ormerod and Matthew Smidt, have now been placed on paid administrative leave after dashcam footage of the incident was released by the State’s Attorney.

Initially, as reported by WCTV-TV, a use of force report was filed the night of the incident, which was deemed justified within 14 hours. However, the incident later captured the attention of city commissioner Scott Maddox after the video went viral.

“It made me nauseous,” city commissioner Scott Maddox said about the first time he saw the video. Maddox was the first to send up a red flag at city hall.

“We need to do the investigation, have an open mind and if we get results back, act on those results and if we did wrong we need to say we did wrong and if we didn’t do wrong, the investigation will bear that out,” Maddox said.

However, city attorney Lew Shelley sent an email to the commission advising¬† “you not to review the video or comment on the case.” Once the states attorney released the video, Shelley reversed himself saying that he gave that advice last week because he did not believe the video was a public record yet.

Under increasing public pressure, the Tallahassee Police Department issued the following press release about the incident:

Press Release: Tallahassee Police Department

City Releases Details on DUI / Use of Force Incident

At 2:10 a.m. on Saturday, August 10, Tallahassee Police Department patrol officers were called to the area of Delaney Drive and Kilkenny Way in northeast Tallahassee, regarding a vehicle crashing into a house at 3501 Kilkenny Drive. Responding officers located the driver – Ms. Christina West – who stated she was returning from Panama City, FL. While turning onto Limerick Drive from Delaney Drive, Ms. West appeared to have accelerated, missing the right turn at Kilkenny Drive. The vehicle continued straight striking a light pole, stop sign, and continued forward into the yard of 3501 Kilkenny Drive, finally striking the house. Ms. West had three students in her vehicle (all under the age of 18) at the time of the crash. Ms. West said the three were foreign exchange students.

The vehicle came to rest inside the master bedroom of the residence. The owners were not home at the time of the incident. A City of Tallahassee utility crew responded to secure live wires from the light pole. During the subsequent investigation of the crash, Ms. West failed a sobriety test and she reported she had been taking prescription medication while drinking alcoholic beverages prior to the accident. Ms. West was initially arrested without incident, but was removed from the car when it was discovered she had slipped her hands out of the handcuffs. At that time, she resisted arrest, and a struggle ensued in which Ms. West was restrained on the ground in order to facilitate the placement of handcuffs. Ms. West was taken to Leon County Jail where she was recommended for medical treatment. She was then transported to the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital (TMH) for medical clearance, which she received before being transported back to jail for processing. Ms. West sustained a broken orbital bone along with scrapes and bruises to her body.

At TMH, while being cared for by the hospital staff, Ms. West continued disruptive behavior that resulted in charges for assault being filed against her by the nurse on duty.

The officers completed a use of force report documenting the incident, per department policy.

“We are concerned any time an individual is injured while in police custody,” said Tallahassee Police Chief Dennis Jones. “Our job is to serve and protect, and that includes victims and suspects. We regret that Ms. West was injured.

“We train our officers in appropriate use of force procedures and my job as Chief is to gather all the facts to determine the appropriateness in this case,” Jones said.

Chief Jones has called for an internal investigation, which will include interviews with all the individuals on the scene that night and at the hospital. It will also include reviewing the video to better determine exactly what happened. From a law enforcement perspective, the purpose is to have all the facts of the case so that the chief can take the appropriate action.

The case was sent to the State Attorney, which is standard procedure. In this case, the State Attorney’s office made the decision to dismiss the charges of assault on a police officer(s) as well as charges for assault filed against Ms. West by the nurse at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. The remaining charge of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is awaiting toxicology results.

“We understand that the video is disturbing to watch and it is for us too. We use cameras to help capture events such as this and are making the entire video available as we continue our internal investigation,” said Jones.

The city has posted the 45-minute video of the incident, the Probable Cause Affidavit and the Use of Force Report on the city’s website talgov.com/TPD. The probable cause affidavit and use of force report are also attached and the video may also be accessed on the Police Department YouTube site .

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