A lawsuit has been brought forth against the St. Louis police for alleged excessive force during an arrest. A dash cam caught a portion of the incident on camera before an officer turned it off.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s office asked for a delay in releasing the video, especially in the wake of Ferguson. The video shows officers pulling Cortez Bufford from a car, kicking him repeatedly and shocking him with a Taser.
It also recorded an officer yelling, “Everybody hold up. We’re red right now!” Afterwards, she immediately shut the camera off.
Bufford’s lawyers, Joel Schwartz and Bevis Schock said “red” is cop talk for a running camera. However, even though the camera was turned off, they claim that what was recorded supports their lawsuit accusing the police of excessive force with no probable cause.
However, the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association disagrees, stating the video shows the proper escalation of force used when dealing with a resisting suspect. They said Bufford was fortunate he did not get shot when he attempted to reach for a gun.
The incident started when 911 received a report of shots fired on the evening of April 10. A silver car was identified by one of the callers. Shortly after, officers Nathanial Burkemper and Michael Binz witnessed a silver Ford Taurus make an illegal U-turn and halt to a stop in front of a residence.
The video began as the officers pulled over the car. Conversation is barely audible in the video. As the officers search the vehicle, they noted the two men in the car smelled of marijuana and plastic baggies with green leafy substances were visible. The officers handcuffed the passenger but Bufford, the driver, resisted arrest.
The passenger can be heard urging Bufford to get out of the car. As he became more hostile, Burkemper called for backup. Meanwhile Binz found two bullets in the passenger’s pocket, which prompted Burkemper to order Bufford out of the car and inform him he was under arrest. In the struggle to get Bufford out, Burkemper spotted a gun and warned the officers who had arrived at the scene.
The remaining video shows at least seven officers participating in the arrest. Bufford is kicked and hit by several of them, including Officer Monroe Jenkins who used a “foot strike” to keep him from reaching for his weapon. He is also Tasered twice.
Once they handcuffed Bufford, Binz recovered a semi-automatic pistol, which has the capacity to hold 11 rounds, yet it only had four rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber.
Near the end of the video, officers seem to turn over Bufford without resistance. Then Officer Kelli Swinton approaches Burkemper’s patrol car. The sound of an opening car door can be heard and she proceeds to loudly yell, “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.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the audio cuts out and the video ends eight seconds later.
In response to an open records request, City Counselor Winston Calvert released the video on Friday, plus recordings from other dash cams. There is a gap of over two minutes in which Bufford cannot be seen. When he shows up again, he is recorded stumbling and falling as he is placed in a police car.
Schock stated that officers struck Bufford again after the first video ended, and that his client “got banged up pretty good.”
The lawsuit stated Bufford suffered abrasions to his fingers, face, back, head, ears and neck, and incurred medical bills of $6,439.32. It seeks unspecified damages from Burkemper, Jenkins and two unnamed officers.
Brian Millikan, a union lawyer for four of the officers at the scene, told the Post-Dispatch that the 911 calls and the U-turn provided probable cause to stop the Taurus. He added that the sight of marijuana was sufficient reason to remove Bufford from the car.
Millikan said the video shows “perfect use” of police tactics by officers who were “just moving up the chain of the escalation-of-force policy 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.”
When asked whether police videos should be made public, Police Chief Sam Dotson said it should be decided case-by-case, balanced by privacy interests of those depicted. He refused to comment on this case because it is still under investigation.