Aurora police officer left restrained woman on floor of patrol car for 21 minutes despite pleas she couldn’t breathe

For 21 minutes, an Aurora police officer refused to help a restrained woman who fell to the floor of his patrol vehicle despite her pleas that she could not breathe and that her neck was going to break.

The officer, Levi Huffine, was fired for his inaction in February but the department declined at the time to say what led to his termination, citing an ongoing appeals process. Internal affairs records obtained by The Denver Post through a public records request shed light for the first time on the incident — which interim police Chief Vanessa Wilson called “severe misconduct.”

On Aug. 27, Huffine transported the woman, whose name is redacted, to jail on suspicion of municipal code violations in connection with a fight, according to a summary of the internal affairs investigation. The woman was placed in a soft restraint hobble, which controls a person’s ankles and can be connected to a waist chain or belt.

During the drive, the woman slid to the floorboard in the backseat of the patrol car, with her head on the floor, according to the document. The woman laid in an inverted position while restrained for about 21 minutes until Huffine arrived at the jail, according to the summary.

During that time, the woman “repeatedly asked for help, said that her neck was going to break, said that she could not breathe and that she did not want to die like that,” according to the police records.

Huffine did not stop the car to check on the woman and reposition her, or even look to see if she was OK.

“You failed to ensure the safety and security of your detainee when you did not take appropriate action in response to her numerous requests for help,” Wilson wrote in her Feb. 6 letter informing Huffine he was fired. “You lost visual contact for a long period of time and did nothing to ensure her welfare.”

“It is my expectation that officers always treat individuals with dignity and respect, and you failed to do so on this occasion,” Wilson wrote. “You displayed complete disregard for her as a human being and any suffering she may have been experiencing while in your care during transport.”

Wilson overruled a lesser punishment recommended to her by the Chief’s Review Board, a panel of department staff that reviews discipline cases and make recommendations to the chief. The board recommended that Huffine be suspended for 180 days.

Huffine received a copy of the letter on Feb. 24, the records show. He appealed the decision to the city’s Civil Service Commission shortly after and has a hearing for that appeal set for late September.

Huffine joined the department in 2012 and a police spokesman previously said the officer had no significant prior disciplinary records.

Aurora police policy states that using a hobble on someone increases the risk for medical complications, including positional asphyxia. The policy also bans officers from transporting people who are hobbled in patrol vehicles, like Huffine did.

“Members will not transport detainees in patrol vehicles while the detainee is restrained by soft leg restraint systems (hobbles),” the policy states. “When transporting a detainee with a soft leg restraint system enabled, rescue will be requested for the transport.”

A man died of restraint asphyxia in Aurora police custody in December 2018 after he was left face-down on the ground with his hands and feet hobbled after an extensive fight with officers. The man, David Baker, had struggled with mental health issues in the weeks before his death, his family said. The 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges against any of the officers involved in the case.

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