The Aurora police officer left the reluctant woman on the floor of the patrol car for 21 minutes, despite being unable to breathe
For 21 minutes, an Aurora police officer refused to help a reluctant woman who fell to the floor of his patrol car despite her request that she couldn’t breathe and that her neck would break.
Officer Levi Huffine was fired in February for inaction, but the department at that point declined to say what had led to his dismissal, citing pending appeal. Internal affairs records, obtained from the Denver Post at the request of public records, shed light for the first time on what Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson described as “grave misconduct.”
On August 27, Huffine jailed the woman, whose name had been edited, on suspicion of violating local law in connection with a fight, according to a summary of the internal affairs investigation. The woman was placed in a soft restraint limp that could control a person’s ankles and be connected with a waist chain or belt.
According to the document, the woman slid her head on the floor in the back seat of the patrol car on the hallway. The woman lay in an inverted position while being held for about 21 minutes until Huffine, according to the summary, arrived at the jail.
During this time, the woman “repeatedly asked for help, saying that her throat was breaking, that she could not breathe and that she did not want to die like this,” police said.
Huffine didn’t stop the car to check on the woman and reposition her, or to see if she was okay.
“You failed to ensure your inmate’s safety when you failed to take adequate action in response to their numerous requests for assistance,” wrote Wilson in her February 6 letter informing Huffine that he has been released. “They lost line of sight for a long time and did nothing to ensure their well-being.”
“I expect officials to always treat people with dignity and respect, and you have not done so on this occasion,” wrote Wilson. “You have completely disregarded her as a human being and every suffering she experienced during the transport in your care.”
Wilson overturned a lesser sentence recommended by the Chief’s Review Board, a body of department staff that review disciplinary cases and make recommendations to the chief. The board recommended putting Huffine on hold for 180 days.
Huffine received a copy of the letter on February 24, the records show. Shortly thereafter, he appealed the decision to the City’s Public Service Commission and has scheduled a hearing for the appeal in late September.
Huffine joined the department in 2012, and a police spokesman previously said the officer did not have any material prior disciplinary records.
Aurora Police say using a hobble increases someone’s risk for medical complications, including positional asphyxia. The policy also bans officials from transporting people hobbling in patrol cars, as Huffine did.
“Members will not transport detainees in patrol cars while the detainee is restrained by soft leg restraint systems (limping),” the guideline says. “When transporting a prisoner with an activated system to restrain soft legs, a rescue service is requested for the transport.”
A man died in Aurora Police custody in December 2018 of suffocation after being left face down on the ground with limping hands and feet after an extensive fight with officers. The man, David Baker, struggled with mental health problems in the weeks leading up to his death, his family said. The 18th District Attorney’s Office declined to bring charges against any of the officers involved in the case.