Police used excessive force on a St. Louis motorist and tried to hide their actions by turning off a dash-cam video that was recording the violent incident, according to a lawsuit filed by the alleged victim.
Joel Schwartz told ABC News that his client, Cortez Bufford, is seeking $500,000 in damages for injuries that he suffered during the incident on April 10, 2014.
“He pulls over, the officer tells him to get out,” Bufford’s attorney Joel Schwartz told ABC News. “You can hear him refusing, asking the officer what he did. The officer … gets angry, at some point he says he smells marijuana, and drags [Cortez] out of the vehicle … the officer took him to the ground.”
Police say Bufford and a passenger were pulled over because his car matched a description in a call about shots fired, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Video from the police car shows officers dragging him from the vehicle and onto the ground, where a struggle with multiple officers ensues. In the midst of the struggle, several officers can be seen kicking Bufford and one tasers him while he screams and thrashes.
Near the two-minute mark, Officer Kelli Swinton arrives on scene and can be heard declaring, “Hold up. Hold up, y’all. Hold up. Hold up, everybody, hold up. We’re red right now, so if you guys are worried about cameras, just wait,” according to the Post-Dispatch.
Moments later, the audio and video shuts off.
When the video returns,Bufford can be seen “stumbling and falling” as he’s led to a police vehicle, according to the Post-Dispatch.
Schwartz told ABC that his client was taken to the hospital and then to jail, but a felony weapon offense and a misdemeanor for resisting arrest were later dropped.
“The lawsuit claims Bufford suffered abrasions to his fingers, face, back, head, ears and neck, and incurred medical bills of $6,439.32,” according to the Post-Dispatch.
He said it took nearly a year for the dash-cam video to be released.
“Ultimately the case was dismissed and the order was lifted,” he told ABC News. “Authorities then contacted us and asked if we would hold off on the video.”
Brian Millikan, a police union lawyer who represents one of the officers in the video, said the officers’ actions were justified that night.
“The use of force that was necessary in this case was a direct result of the defendant`s actions or the suspect`s actions,” Millikan said, according to ABC News. “If you`ll notice, there was a passenger in that vehicle. He voluntarily removed himself. He complied with the officer`s requests and commands. There was no physical force necessary.”
Authorities told ABC News that Swinton has already been “disciplined,” though details of the punishment were not released.
“That camera should not have been turned off,” Maggie Crane, a spokeswoman for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, told ABC News.
However, she said, at the time the camera was shut off, Bufford was armed with a gun, “disobeying” orders, physically attacking officers and “repeatedly reaching for his gun.”
Why, then, were charges dropped?
Schwartz told the Post-Dispatch that the tape contradicted the police report, but Susan Ryan, a spokeswoman for the St. Louis circuit attorney, disagreed. She told the paper that, while officers did not break the law, the case was dismissed because “the action of turning off the dash cam video diminished the evidentiary merits of the case.”