DENVER (AP) — A Colorado police officer fired for not helping a restrained Black woman who begged for help after she became lodged upside down in the back of his patrol car is appealing his termination, saying officials painted him as a racist.
Levi Huffine, who is white, filed a lawsuit last week in state court in an attempt to get his job in the city of Aurora back, The Denver Post reported.
Chief Vanessa Wilson fired Huffine in February, overriding an advisory panel’s recommendation that he only be suspended. Last month, the city’s civil service commission upheld her decision after a hearing in which video of Shataeah Kelly crying for help in August 2019 was shown to the public for the first time. While she initially berated Huffine after he restrained both her ankles and wrists, she later called him “master” as she tried to get his attention, unable to free herself because of the hobble.
In the lawsuit, Huffine does not dispute the facts of the case, but he argues that officials unfairly inferred that racial bias played a role in what happened. He said they did so both in their testimony at his civil service appeal and by releasing a summary of the case in response to an open records request by the Post. Wilson said that release was accidental because disciplinary records should not be released until any appeal is complete.
“Despite the fact that there was no evidence of racially motivated bias in this case, or any racial component aside from the fact that the individuals were of different races, Plaintiff was impermissibly painted as a racist with no way to counter, biasing Plaintiff in the eyes of the Commission,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit claims that his reputation has been tarnished as a result, preventing him from getting another job in law enforcement.
In a statement, the city of Aurora said it is reviewing the lawsuit. “The termination of Huffine by Wilson was lawful and appropriate, and was upheld by the city’s Civil Service Commission, and we believe the District Court will agree with the actions taken in this case,” it said.
Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and protests over racial injustice and police brutality, the Aurora Police Department came under renewed scrutiny over the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a Black man confronted by police after someone reported him as suspicious.
No officers have been fired over their involvement with McClain, although Wilson fired three officers this year over photos mocking a stranglehold he was placed in.