(Tallahassee.com) -- A shocking dashboard video from a Tallahassee Police Departmentvehicle shows officers using strong force as they subdued a 44-year-oldwoman who was arrested on DUI after crashing into a house.
Thevideo shows one officer slamming Christina West's head into the back ofa TPD vehicle before she is forcefully taken to the ground. The woman,who suffered a broken orbital bone in her face and other injuries, canbe heard screaming in pain as the officers subdue her.
WATCH:Christina West's DUI arrest(WARNING: Graphic content)
Thearrest and the use of force by TPD sparked outrage amongprosecutors and others who have seen the video. West's attorney, FredConrad of Tallahassee, is vowing to seek justice for his client, andcity officials are already bracing for the possibility of a majorlawsuit.
Twoofficers who can be seen on the video subduing West, Chris Ormerod andMatthew Smidt, have been placed on administrative leave with pay pendingthe outcome of an internal-affairs investigation, said Officer DaveNorthway, spokesman for TPD.
StateAttorney Willie Meggs said he was disturbed by the conduct of officersat the scene. At least six TPD officers responded to the scene.
"I am extremely upset," Meggs said in an interview with the Tallahassee Democrat. "It is very disturbing. This is a very disturbing situation to me, and I'm dealing with it."
Thecity issued a two-page written statement Tuesday night about the arrestand posted the full 45-minute video of the incident along with ause-of-force report and other documents on the city website. TPD ChiefDennis Jones, in the statement, said the department is concerned anytimesomeone is injured while in police custody.
"Our job is to serve and protect, and that includes victims and suspects," Jones said. "We regret that Ms. West was injured."
Westwas arrested on a charge of DUI with property damage, three counts ofbattery on a law-enforcement officer and one count of assault on amedical worker after the crash, which happened in the early morninghours Aug. 10 on Kilkenny Drive West.
Meggs has already dropped assault and battery charges. The DUI case remains open.
Conrad said West, who is 5-foot-6 and 120 pounds, was the victim of police brutality at the hands of TPD officers.
"Iwas shocked to see this," he said. "I would never have expected thatout of my police department. And by and large, most of my officers that Ideal with at the Tallahassee Police Department and the Sheriff's Officeare all professional and good cops, folks that I would feel verycomfortable with in the event I needed them as a citizen."
But,he continued, "This is disturbing. I could not believe that I saw thathappening in Tallahassee, Florida. It's like something you'd see inDetroit or Los Angeles or some other town. This is Tallahassee."
Jones acknowledged that the video was difficult to watch.
"Weunderstand that the video is disturbing to watch and it is for us too,"he said. "We use cameras to help capture events such as this and aremaking the entire video available as we continue our internalinvestigation."
In an email obtained by the Democrat,City Commissioner Scott Maddox wrote City Manager Anita FavorsThompson, City Attorney Lew Shelley and fellow commissioners voicingconcern about TPD's treatment of West and the possibility that a majorlawsuit will be filed as a result. Maddox, in the email sent Sept. 4,said he learned about the video from Meggs.
"Thevideo was taken from the police car and shows the road-side sobrietytest as well as the arrest of the subject," Maddox wrote. "It also showsDISTURBING use of force against a completely non-aggressive arrestee.It is my belief that the city of Tallahassee will soon face asubstantial liability lawsuit based on the content of the video."
Maddoxwrote that he would like Meggs to show the video to each of thecommissioners and that city staff draft a report on what steps should betaken next.
ButShelley wrote back later that day urging commissioners not to watch thevideo or comment on it. The video became public Tuesday morning afterthe Democrat obtained a copy from Meggs' office.
"The chief had already opened an internal-affairs investigation onthis matter last week and the investigation is proceeding as quickly aspossible," Shelley wrote in the email to commissioners and appointedofficials. "The criminal case is currently still pending in court."
Shelleyadded that, "At this time, for a variety of reasons, I would advise younot to review the video or comment on the case. The manager, policechief and I will advise you as the investigation and the case develops."
Conrad said he intends to pursue justice for West.
"Ican say I intend to pursue just compensation for Ms. West," Conradsaid. "And I can say I intend to do it relentlessly. I intend to makethe Police Department pay for this. This is wrong. And they need to payfor it."
Asidefrom Maddox, commissioners had little to say about West's arrest. MayorJohn Marks was in Washington, D.C., on city business Tuesday and had notyet seen the video, said Rick Minor, his chief of staff. Minor saidMarks "wants to allow time for a thorough, complete review before hemakes specific comments about the case."
CommissionerNancy Miller, who was returning from North Carolina after her father'sfuneral, said she hadn't seen the video. Commissioner Gil Ziffer said hehadn't watched the video on the advice of the city attorney, though heplanned to speak with the city manager about it today. CommissionerAndrew Gillum issued a statement on Facebook calling the video"disturbing" and calling for a full investigation.
"Asa city commissioner, I would like to say more about the situation butthere is a current investigation being conducted into the matter todetermine all the facts," Gillum wrote. "I welcome the inquiry of the Tallahassee Democrat anytimea claim like this is made in our community. ... Our men and women inlaw enforcement do an exceptional job in difficult circumstances to keepour community safe. The officers involved in this matter deserve a fullinvestigation uninterrupted by politics."
Jones said officers are trained in how to use force appropriately. But Conrad said the video raises doubts about TPD training.
"Iquestion the type of training and policies in place at TPD that wouldlead officers to believe this type of behavior is acceptable," Conradsaid, "especially in front of two sergeants who were only a few feetaway."
'Thrill' ride led to crash
Westwas arrested after losing control of her Honda CR-V about 2 a.m. andcrashing into the master bedroom of an unoccupied house in the 3500block of Kilkenny Drive West, according to police reports. In the carwith her were three foreign exchange students she was hosting at herhome in Killearn.
Westand the students were returning from a trip to Panama City Beach, shetold officers. She said she wanted to give the students a "thrill" bydriving the car fast up a hill, but lost control of the SUV. She saidshe had two beers at the beach about 6 p.m. and took prescription painpills for a previous back surgery, the report noted.
Westused her cell phone to report the crash to TPD, but walked away fromthe scene with the students. Emergency-medical workers located the groupat East Kilkenny and Limerick drives. When police arrived, she smelledof alcohol and had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech, officers wrote intheir reports.
Sheperformed several field sobriety tests before she was arrested andplaced in the back of a police car, where she repeatedly expressedconcern about her child car seats being left in her crashed SUV. Aftershe consented to a breath test, officers removed her from the vehicle.At one point, her hands slipped out of the handcuffs.
Whenofficers tried to put her back in handcuffs, they said she becameaggressive. In the report filed by arresting Officer Ormerod the nightof the arrest, he said West "was placed on the ground," when she beganto "thrash and kick wildly." In his supplemental report filed nearly twoweeks later, Ormerod wrote that she was "overcome with force."
In2009, Ormerod was cleared by TPD internal-affairs investigation for hisuse of a Taser on a 15-year-old who ran away from him during an arrest.
Woman receives 'beating'
None of the reports make any mention of West's face being slammed against the patrol car or her body into the pavement.
"Idon't see her thrashing and kicking wildly," West's attorney Conradsaid. "I see her screaming bloody Mary, screaming so bad because she'sjust lost control of her bowels and her bladder."
Conrad added, "If that's 'placing,' I'd like to see what 'slamming' means."
WhenWest was taken to the Leon County Jail, deputies said she had to go tothe hospital first. Medical personnel at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCaredetermined West suffered a broken orbital bone, along with a swolleneye, bloody nose and cuts to her arms and legs.
Conradsaid the injuries occurred when she was taken down by police. TPD'straffic crash report said there were no injuries as a result of thecrash.
At the TMHemergency room, the police report said West was belligerent, ignoredorders and at one point tried to wipe her feces on a nurse.
Conradsaid no matter what she did that night, she didn't deserve thetreatment she received from TPD. Court records show no prior arrests ofWest.
"We're agood place to live," he said. "We don't need this kind of policeconduct. It's bad. This mother, a nice lady, is injured, beaten. That's abeating there's no other way to characterize it."
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