Chandler paid out more than $300,000 in settlement money over two separate instances of alleged police misconduct.
Chandler is paying more than $300,000 in settlements related to two police incidents.
One involved a man who set out to help police but found himself thrown against a car, handcuffed and later arrested at the prompting of a police supervisor. The officer said he felt pressured by his supervisor, who also discouraged him from using a police body camera.
The other case involved a bicyclist who lost an eye during an encounter with police.
All of the involved officers still work for Chandler. The supervisor was suspended one day without pay.
The Chandler City Council voted in late April to settle the cases.
In the first case, Luke Hein alleged police misconduct and received $35,000 after the 2014 incident.
In the second case, Seferino Varelas alleged police negligence leading to the loss of his eye and received $288,000 after the 2016 incident.
Body-worn police-camera footage from a May 8, 2014, incident that recently ended with a $35,000 settlement approved by the Chandler City Council.
Luke Hein vs. City of Chandler
On May 8, 2014, the Chandler Police Department attempted to get Zoe Shunick out of her vehicle after she struck a tree at her apartment complex, according to a notice of claim filed against the city. The car belonged to her boyfriend, Hein, who came out of the apartment to assist.
Shunick, who was later convicted of DUI, refused to leave the vehicle and the two officers sought Hein’s help. However, once she was out of the car, the situation went south.
One of the officers struck Shunick in the chest, prompting Hein to exclaim “Hey!” according to the notice of claim his attorney filed with the city.
The officers say Shunick was struck when she came after one of them, according to a Chandler police internal-affairs investigation.
When Hein objected, Officer Brian Hawkins grabbed him and threw him against the hood of the car as he asked the officer what he did, body-camera footage shows. Hawkins later explained to the internal-affairs investigator that Hein took an aggressive posture, which worried him that Hein would attack the other officer for hitting his girlfriend.
The officer is heard speaking profanely to Hein in the body-camera footage.
Hawkins later said he used the expletive as it would be language Hein would “understand,” according to an internal-affairs document.
Hawkins initially told Hein he would not arrest him and that he “understood” why Hein got upset, but that changed when his supervisor, Sgt. William Nocella, arrived.
“Once the handcuffs go on, he goes to jail,” Nocella is heard saying on the body-camera footage to the officer. “Do you wanna unhandcuff him and get sued again?”
Nocella can be heard calling Shunick an “animal.” In the internal-affairs document, Nocella says the reason he called the woman an “animal” was just “theatrics.”
Nocella told an investigator he was “embarrassed” about his conduct and said he had been dealing with personal issues.
In Hein’s claim against the city, his lawyer said Hein sustained “severe emotional trauma” and injuries that resulted in excessive back pain.
Hein also was evicted from his apartment after he was charged with obstructing police, according to the notice of claim. He lived in a hotel for three months while he and Shunick found alternative housing.
The charge against Heim was dropped after the court saw the body-camera footage, according to the notice of claim.
Nocella is heard on the body-camera footage telling the officer to “make a stretch” in arresting Hein.
Nocella later told the investigator it was “simply just a bad use of a metaphor,” according to the internal-affairs document.
Hawkins told the investigator he felt Nocella was telling him to “make something up” and that he felt uncomfortable about Nocella’s comments.
Nocella later approached Hawkins to try to persuade him to stop wearing the body camera, according to the internal-affairs document.
“Cameras will never help us; they will only hurt us,” Hawkins said Nocella told him.
Heim’s original claim sought more than $1 million. The city agreed to pay him $35,000.
Seferino Varelas vs. City of Chandler
On Feb. 17, 2016, Varelas rode his bicycle on California Street, heading south in a northbound lane, according to his notice of claim against Chandler.
The police report says Officer Joshua Logan was on his police bicycle when he spotted Varelas riding against traffic, which is against state law.
Logan stopped his bike in front of Varelas and told him to stop, but Varelas rode around him and used an expletive toward the officer before saying, “I don’t have any warrants,” according to the police report.
The officer followed and commanded Varelas to stop but Varelas kept saying “no.”
Police and Varelas give a slightly different sequence of events for what happened next.
According to Varelas’ claim against the city, Logan jumped from his bike onto Varelas and tackled him to the ground.
The police report says Logan grabbed Varelas’ arm in an attempt to stop him and ended up shoving him to the ground.
Both accounts match from there.
Logan was on top of Varelas, who did not resist, and called for backup when he noticed a large amount of blood around Varelas on the ground.
Varelas looked up at the officer and screamed as his right eye hung from its socket, according to the police report.
When the officer brought Varelas to the ground, his right eye had been impaled on the brake lever.
Firefighters treated Varelas before taking him to a nearby hospital. Varelas lost his eye, according to the claim.
One week after the incident, two Chandler police officers patrolled the trailer park where Varelas lives and noticed him riding his bike on the wrong side of the road, according to the claim notice.
They stopped him and cited him for not having a light on his bicycle, failure to yield from a private drive, no brakes on his bicycle and for not being on the right side of the road, the claim says.
Varelas “spat upon” the officer who handed him the ticket, which led the officer to cite him for aggravated assault.
Varelas’ notice of claim filed with the city originally sought $490,000, but the settlement paid out $288,000.
A letter of reprimand was issued to Logan for the incident and an internal-affairs investigation found officers had inadequate training for such situations.
Officer David Sitz, who helps train officers in the city’s bicycle program, said during the internal-affairs investigation that best practices for pursuing a suspect fleeing on a bicycle “has never come up that I know of, before this incident.”
Logan told investigators he had never received training for removing a fleeing suspect from a bicycle and said his inexperience may have contributed to the incident.
The internal investigation recommended that Chandler review its bicycle police policies.
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