Fired Aurora cop who transported Black woman who said she couldn’t breathe won’t get job back after appeal fails

Levi Huffine was fired after he transported a woman who ended up on his patrol car’s floorboard and asked for help.

A screengrab from former Aurora police officer Levi Huffin's body worn camere footage showing Shataeah Kelly upside down.

A screengrab from former Aurora police officer Levi Huffin's body worn camere footage showing Shataeah Kelly upside down.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

A former Aurora police officer who appealed his firing won’t get his job back. On Tuesday, the city’s Civil Service Commission upheld his firing after he transported a woman last year who said she couldn’t breath after she rolled over onto his patrol car’s floorboard.

The findings letter from the Civil Service Commission said the actions of former Aurora police officer Levi Huffine while he transported Shataeah Kelly in August 2019 were “egregious” and intentionally ignored Kelly’s safety.

Huffine’s incident came to light as the Aurora Police Department faces scrutiny over its treatment of Black residents and use of force. Calls for transparency and changes in the department have grown after demonstrations against police violence and racism prompted by the death of George Floyd started this summer. Other protests have focused on the death of Elijah McClain in Aurora last year, which has prompted multiple investigations.

Kelly, who is Black, was handcuffed and put in a patrol car after police said she tried to fight people at Fletcher Plaza. After handcuffing Kelly for fighting another person at the scene, the findings letter said Huffine put her in the back seat of his patrol car and later placed her on her side with help from another cop after she became combative with officers.

During the drive to jail, Kelly rolled off the seat and onto the floorboard, where her head and neck stayed for 21 minutes while Huffine drove to the jail.

The letter said during those 21 minutes, Kelly repeatedly told Huffine, who is white, that she needed help and couldn’t breath. She was afraid her neck was going to break. At one point, the letter said, Kelly got more quiet and subdued while she “pleaded” with Huffine to help her. Video released by the commission shows Kelly crying for help from Huffine while she laid upside down.

Huffine told the commission he heard Kelly but didn’t realized she had slid onto the floorboard and was upside down. He told the commission he didn’t do anything to check on Kelly or help her during the ride, even after they arrived at the jail. Once Huffine and Kelly got to the jail, a detention officer was surprised and concerned to see Kelly upside down on her head and neck. The letter said Kelly did not have any serious physical injuries from the incident.

Huffine had served as an Aurora police officer since 2012 and had one previous formal disciplinary action against him. He was fired by police chief Vanessa Wilson in February after a disciplinary hearing on the incident with Kelly. During a pre-disciplinary hearing, the letter said that Wilson noted that Huffine seemed to show “little remorse for his actions” and more concern over how the incident would affect his job.

Wilson in a statement on Tuesday called Huffine’s action “shocking” and “reprehensible.” She added that she’s committed to a new way of policing.

“Acts like his take away from my officers who every day make a positive difference in the lives of our community members and put their lives in danger to help others,” Wilson said in the statement.

The appeal was heard remotely by the Aurora Civil Service Commission from Sept. 29 to Oct 1. The commission is responsible for hiring officers and overseeing disciplinary appeals.

This story has been updated to included a statement from Chief Wilson. 

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