Police Dash Cam Turned Off During Arrest, Lawsuit Alleges

The on-going debate about police tactics has another incident to content with.

Recently released footage from a police car dash camera shows what is alleged by some to be the use of excessive force by police officers in St. Louis. The NY Daily News reports that on April 10th of last year, Cortez Bufford, 18, was pulled over by police and subsequently detained by at least six officers. The video shows Bufford huddled on the ground as he is kicked, punched, tased and otherwise subdued by a group of police officers. 

On top of the use of excessive force, critics are outraged that one of the officers turned off the camera recording the arrest. Eight minutes into the video footage acquired by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Officer Kelli Swinton warned the officers that they were being recorded by one of their dash cams. “Hold up. Hold up, y’all. Hold up. Hold up, everybody, hold up,” Swinton said. “We’re red right now, so if you guys are worried about cameras, just wait.” Moments later, the video goes black.

Bufford’s lawyer filed a lawsuit against four of the officers on January 22nd for excessive force and improper arrest due to lack of cause. The lawsuit points out that Bufford required approximately $6,500 worth of medical treatment for injuries on his fingers, face, back, head, ears, and neck.

The Riverfront Times reports that Bufford and a passenger were pulled over for “an illegal U-turn” and parking “abruptly.” After initial questioning, Bufford was asked to step out of the car but refused, leading the police officers to physically restrain him. Officers claimed that they saw Bufford reaching for a handgun. A loaded pistol was later recovered. The officers also claimed that they smelled marijuana in the car and saw “plastic baggies and a green leafy substance.”

Bufford went on to receive a felony weapons charge and a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest. Both charges were eventually dropped in August. His passenger was peacefully subdued.

The police and city officials are siding with the police. A lawyer for a local police union told reporters that the officers followed protocol and implemented the “perfect use” of police tactics. One of Bufford’s lawyers, however, claims that the office of St. Louis mayor Francis Slay requested them to not release the video to the public.

The officers were “just moving up the chain of the escalation-of-force policy,” said Brian Millikan, the attorney representing the four officers in the suit, “and they deliver some very targeted, directed strikes to his arm and leg. When that doesn’t work, they move up the ladder again to the taser. And the taser ultimately is what makes the suspect comply.”

Swinton is facing interdisciplinary action, but is filing an appeal. Swinton was awarded the Officer of the Year award in 2013 by the St. Louis Police Department.

The incident is yet another instance of “police brutality” that has sparked fierce debate about the use of force by law enforcement as well as the appropriateness of cameras in police cars as well as on their persons.

“This incident is yet another example of the benefit that in car cameras can provide, not only for the department but for the public as well,” says Jubal Ragsdale, President of 10-8 Video. “Videos of public encounters like this are an opportunity for departments to use the videos for further training and review. Studies have shown that having in car cameras reduce citizen complaints, increase officer safety and encourages citizen compliance. This incident also show the need for in car cameras to have both pre and post record features, allowing for a continued recording even after the recording is stopped by an officer.”

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