Christina West, who was left bloodied by police during a DUI arrest last summer that was caught on dramatic dash-cam video, is suing the city of Tallahassee and four officers involved in the incident.
West, along with her husband David West, filed a lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee alleging that officers with the Tallahassee Police Department violated her constitutional rights when they beat and injured her during the arrest.
The Wests, who notified the city of their intent to sue last year, are seeking an unspecified amount in compensatory and punitive damages. Named individually as defendants in the lawsuit are TPD officers Matthew Smidt and Chris Ormerod along with their supervisors who were at the scene, Sgts. George Creamer Jr. and William Faust.
The West case rocked both City Hall and TPD, prompting Chief Dennis Jones to step down only days after the Tallahassee Democrat released the dash-cam video of the arrest. A Leon County grand jury later found that officers were responsible for West's injuries, though it opted not to charge any of the officers with a crime or recommend that they be fired.
A TPD internal-affairs report "exonerated" the officers on allegations they used excessive force, but it found that Ormerod and Smidt demonstrated conduct unbecoming an officer and Creamer and Faust violated standard procedures by not questioning the officers about West's injuries and not providing her help. All four officers were suspended.
City Attorney Lew Shelley said the allegations in the lawsuit are not new or surprising and run contrary to the grand jury's findings.
"Obviously the city is always concerned when a citizen is injured in any kind of interaction with our police officers," he said. "And the department has done a thorough internal investigation of the case. And we've made changes in our training and reporting."
West was arrested in the early morning hours of Aug. 10 after crashing her SUV into an unoccupied home in Killearn Estates with three foreign-exchange students in the vehicle. She and the students were returning from a day trip to Panama City Beach; she admitted to officers she had drunk a couple of beers earlier in the day and taken pain medication.
The lawsuit says Smidt and Ormerod asked West to take part in roadside sobriety tests after the crash. She agreed, but warned the officers she had surgery recently and was due to have more surgery. After taking the tests, the lawsuit says Ormerod improperly placed West in handcuffs that were too small for her wrists and put her in the back of his squad car.
West agreed to take a breath test, and as officers were reading an implied consent warning to her, they noticed she was no longer in her handcuffs. As she got out of the car, she was "aggressively grabbed by both officers," according to the lawsuit.
"Both of them aggressively seized her using pressure points applied to various parts of her body causing acute and considerable pain," the lawsuit states. "Officer Smidt then forcibly struck Mrs. West in the back of the head and continued the momentum of his blow slamming Mrs. West's face into the rear windshield of the patrol car. Both officers then forcefully slammed Mrs. West onto the pavement face-first. (Her) face struck the pavement with such force that it bounced off the pavement and slammed into the pavement again."
Once on the ground, Smidt pushed her face into the pavement, with his hands pressing down on her neck, where she has multiple screws and pins in place from three previous surgeries, the lawsuit states. At the same time, Ormerod wrenched her arms up and straddled her with one knee gouging into her right hip, near a labral tear for which surgery had been scheduled.
"The force was so severe that it caused multiple injuries including fractures, nerve damage to (her) face, impairment in the vision in her right eye, a permanent black eye and numerous other painful conditions for which she continues to suffer to this day," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit accuses TPD of using excessive force, intentionally inflicting emotional distress and fabricating evidence. It also says the city employs policies and training that are "substantially certain" to lead to constitutional violations and that TPD routinely allows abusive officers to remain on the force.