AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) – A Black woman who was detained by an Aurora police officer last August said she struggled to breathe in the backseat of his patrol car while her hands and feet were restrained.
“I obviously thought I was going to die,” Shataeah Kelly said of her ride in the backseat of former officer Levi Huffine’s patrol vehicle. Kelly said she fell face-first onto the floorboard, and she was unable lift herself out of the difficult position as Huffine transported her to jail.
“Once he started driving, I’m like, ‘Pick me up, like I can’t breathe.’ You know what I’m saying?” Kelly said.
A police investigation found Kelly was “initially verbally belligerent, but after several minutes, she slid onto the floorboard of the patrol vehicle with her head on the floor.” She was in an “inverted position on the floorboard of the patrol vehicle for approximately 21 minutes until (Huffine) arrived at the jail. During that 21 minutes, she 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.” Huffine “did not look to see what had happened,” according to police disciplinary documents.
“Twenty-one minutes is a long time to be up under a car seat, shackled, and you can’t get yourself up, and your neck is half crushed,” Kelly said. “I even called him master,” Kelly said, “I really felt like a slave that day.”
Kelly said she was at the point where she was telling herself, “don’t let yourself die…you’re up under the car seat. There’s no air coming in. You’re about to suffocate.”
The Aurora interim police chief, Vanessa Wilson, fired Huffine in February, calling his actions, “severe misconduct.” In a disciplinary report obtained by the FOX31 Problem Solvers, Wilson said, “It is my expectation officers always treat individuals with dignity and respect, and you failed to do so on this occasion. You displayed complete disregard for her as a human being and any suffering she may have been experiencing while in your car during transport.
Huffine appealed his termination and is set to have a civil service commission hearing in September.
He did not respond to FOX31’s voicemail.
Kelly said she was the one who called 911 for help the day she encountered Huffine. She said she had been drinking near the Martin Luther King Jr. library and felt physically threatened by another man who was nearby. Kelly said another woman punched her and tried to engage her in a fight as well.
The Aurora Police Department could not confirm any details from the case, but Kelly said she was angry when she was arrested that day.
“I’m like, ‘No! You’re arresting the wrong person. I’m the 911 caller,’” she told the FOX31 Problem Solvers. Kelly admitted to kicking Huffine’s patrol car windows when she was detained. I threw a temper tantrum about him arresting me,” she said. “I was like, ‘You guys have the wrong person. You need to let me go. I’m in school. I have worked three or four jobs. I have my own apartment after coming from being homeless,” she said. Kelly said the officer pulled her out of the car and tied her legs together to prevent her from kicking the car.
Kelly said a female officer at the jail helped her out of the vehicle. “I’m screaming, ‘Oh my God! He tried to kill me. He tried to kill me! I’ve been under that police car I don’t know how long,’” she said.
Kelly said she would thank the chief for firing the officer.
“With her firing him, it actually makes me feel like a better person. I have butterflies,” she said. “I’m happy to know that justice has been served. You know what I mean? I just hope that my story is able to be acknowledged so that people know that there are good people out there and that things are changing…I’m just so excited and happy that justice was served – most definitely – for my people as well.”