Attorneys representing Johnny Wheatcroft, who was hit with a Taser multiple times by Glendale police officers during a traffic stop in 2017, announce they are filing a lawsuit.
Tom Tingle, The Republic | azcentral.com
The Glendale Police Department on Monday allowed members of the media to view additional footage of an officer using a stun gun on a man multiple times during a traffic stop after facing harsh criticism for “excessive” use of force.
The four videos and the accompanying information provided practically no new information on the 2017 traffic stop in which Glendale Officer Matt Schneider used a stun gun on Johnny Wheatcroft 11 times after he refused to show his identification to the officer.
Two department spokespeople — Sgt. John Roth and Officer Tiffany Ngalula — said the briefing was intended to address questions the department received about the incident and to fulfill a number of public records requests.
The dozen media members in attendance were not allowed to record during the briefing, which took place at an isolated training center miles away from the main station where protesters were gathered.
Ngalula said recording wasn’t allowed due to the pending federal lawsuit, despite that the attorney on the other side of the case has already released several videos police have provided to him.
What the videos showed
The first two videos shown Monday — Schneider’s body-camera footage and surveillance video from the hotel — already had been released by Wheatcroft’s attorney, Marc Victor, and police last week.
Another video captured the moments after Wheatcroft’s wife, Anya Chapman, struck Officer Mark Lindsey with a bag full of unopened soda cans. Lindsey falls to the ground after he’s hit and blacks out for a few seconds before another officer drags him to a wall. He later gets up and walks away on his own.
The fourth video shows Lindsey talking to another officer and the fire department after the three adults in the car were taken into custody.
Ngalula didn’t respond to questions about what a woman striking an officer with a bag of sodas had to do with Schneider using astun gunon a man in handcuffs. Officers already had shocked Wheatcroft when she hit Lindsey.
What happened during the incident
Wheatcroft and Chapman were parked outside a Motel 6 in downtown Glendale with their two minor children and a family friend after they were stopped in traffic by Schneider and Lindsey on July 26, 2017. The car was pulled over for a traffic violation.
Wheatcroft, who was in the front-passenger seat, refused the officer’s requests to provide his driver’s license and asked why he needed to identify himself.
The body-camera footage then shows one of the officers pulling Wheatcroft from the car, twisting his right arm while the seat belt was still engaged. One of the officers can be heard threatening to shock Wheatcroft. Wheatcroft repeatedly yells that he hasn’t done anything wrong.
As he is partway out of the vehicle, the seat belt still tangled around him,police begin using the stun guns repeatedly as he is pulled onto the ground.
Body-camera video shows Glendale police officers continued to use a stun gun on a suspect after handcuffing him.
Thomas Hawthorne, The Republic | azcentral.com
The lawsuit claims the officer continued to shock Wheatcroft even after he was handcuffed on the ground, kicked him in the groin and that Schneider “pulled down Plaintiff’s shorts and Tased his testicles and perineum.”
In the video, Schneider can be seen kicking Wheatcroft twice as he struggles on the ground, thrashing his legs. Roth said the second kick was likely in response to a handcuffed Wheatcroft accidentally kicking Schneider while he thrashed after being shocked with the stun gun again.
Ngalula said Schneider didn’t intentionally pull down Wheatcroft’s shorts. She explained Schneider grabbed onto the clothing while he was trying to gain control of Wheatcroft as he was thrashing on the ground while handcuffed. She maintained that he actually struck Wheatcroft with the stun gun on his butt, not his genitals.
As a group of officers began removing the stun gun prongs, “Schneider placed his Taser on Johnny Wheatcroft’s penis and screamed, ‘Keep fighting and you’re going to get it again! You want it again? Shut your mouth!’ ” the lawsuit contends.
Roth said there’s no proof Schneider placed the stun gun on Wheatcroft’s penis. He referred to the footage when questioned about Schneider’s threat.
Schneider was suspended for 30 working hours specifically for using the stun gun while Wheatcroft was already handcuffed and no longer resisting arrest, which is not in compliance with Glendale’s resistance policy. Everything else was within policy, police said.
Both Wheatcroft and Champan initially were charged with aggravated assault and physically resisting arrest. The charges against Wheatcroft were later dismissed, while court records show Chapman pleaded guilty to a reduced count of aggravated assault.
Officers later found “a usable quantity of methamphetamine” inside the vehicle, according to a news release from the department. Court records did not show either Wheatcroft or Chapman facing a drug charge.
Victor said Wheatcroft didn’t have any weapons or drugs on him. He’s currently in prison on an unrelated burglary charge.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined to file any charges against the officers involved in October 2017, according to spokeswoman Amanda Steele.
“Through the process of reviewing evidence in the case involving Mr. Wheatcroft, prosecutors reviewed the video and determined there was no likelihood of conviction due to the totality of the events leading to the arrest,” Steele said in an email to The Arizona Republic. “At the same time, prosecutors looked at the video and due to the totality of the events determined at that time the actions of the officer also did not meet the charging standard of reasonable likelihood of conviction.”
‘Officers who violated the public’s trust’
The screening came several hours after Chapman and the law firm defending Wheatcroft spoke publicly about the incident for the first time.
Victor described the use of “excessive” force as “egregious.” He noted that he believes there wasn’t probable cause for the officers to pull the car over in the first place and that Arizona law does not require passengers to provide identification.
Chapman said her family is still trying to recover from the incident. Their children continue to have nightmares about that day and are afraid to leave the house,she said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, there are some officers who violated the public’s trust,” Chapman said in her statement, read by attorney Jody Broaddus.
Glendale Officer Mark Lindsey laughs before describing incident of a suspect who was hit with a Taser multiple times, including in the genitals.
Diana Payan, The Republic | azcentral.com
Allegations of laughter
The law firm also released another body-camera video, this one showing Lindsey speaking with another officer in a hospital room after the incident.
Lindsey, who is lying in a hospital bed, chuckles after the officer asks him what happened. Lindsey then recounts the events leading up to when Chapman struck him with the bag, knocking him unconscious for “three or four seconds.”
The federal lawsuit was filed in November 2018, claiming police used excessive force and violated Wheatcroft’s civil rights. It also claims Wheatcroft and his family suffered from trauma and physical and emotional damages.
The lawsuit names the city of Glendale, Schneider, Lindsey and a third officer, Michael Fernandez, as defendants. The suit does not specify a damage amount being sought.
They expect the case to go to trial.
Republic reporter Perry Vandell contributed to this report.
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