Agency defends officers who used stun gun on handcuffed man
By JACQUES BILLEAUD
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) - Officials at a police department in metro Phoenix defended its officers who were captured on body-camera video repeatedly shooting a handcuffed man with a stun gun during an encounter in a motel parking lot.
A lawsuit stemming from the July 2017 encounter alleged one Glendale officer kicked Johnny Wheatcroft in the groin during a struggle, while another officer shot him with the stun gun in the testicles.
Glendale police held a briefing Monday to respond to the excessive force allegations after a video of the encounter surfaced on local TV.
The police department has acknowledged its officers used stun guns on Wheatcroft and that an officer kicked him during a struggle.
But the agency denied the allegation that Officer Matt Schneider shot Wheatcroft in the testicles with the stun gun, saying instead that the officer zapped Wheatcroft in the thigh.
The agency said Wheatcroft wasn't following officers' commands and that Wheatcroft's wife hit an officer in the head with a plastic bag containing full soda cans, knocking the officer to the ground.
During the briefing with reporters, spokespeople for the police department declined to answer several questions, such as whether it was within agency policy to use a stun gun on a person who was handcuffed.
Police say Wheatcroft and his family were passengers in a car that was suspected of a traffic violation.
Agency spokesman Sgt. John Roth said the kick to Wheatcroft was allowed under a policy regarding people who are resisting officers.
Nearly all of Schneider's stun-gun use also was allowed under policy, though the officer received a three-day suspension for using a stun gun on Wheatcroft at a point when he was cuffed and not resisting officers, Roth said.
Marc Victor, an attorney representing Wheatcroft and his family in the lawsuit, said at a news conference that the video shows Wheatcroft was compliant throughout the encounter. "This is egregious," Victor said. "That is obvious."
The videos show officers asking for identification for the passengers in the car.
When Wheatcroft asked why officers needed IDs, Schneider raised the possibility of taking Wheatcroft to the police station. The officer also said he saw Wheatcroft stuffing something in a backpack and in the car's seats.
An officer said Wheatcroft was going to fight. "I'm not doing nothing, bro," Wheatcroft responded.
Eventually, an officer put his stun gun on Wheatcroft's shoulder as he tried to get Wheatcroft to lower his head. Another officer then used his stun gun on Wheatcroft. His wife and two children yelled as they urged officers to stop.
While Wheatcroft was sitting on the asphalt and leaning against the car, Schneider shot his stun gun at Wheatcroft's chest. The police department said the chest shot with the stun gun occurred after the wife assaulted the officer.
The lawsuit said Wheatcroft screamed in agony as officers removed the stun gun's prongs from his skin, prompting Schneider to put his stun gun on Wheatcroft's penis. The lawsuit quotes Schneider as saying, "Keep fighting and you're going to get it again! You want it again? Shut your mouth!" Schneider said, using profanity as he told Wheatcroft that he was done messing around.
Roth said Schneider didn't shoot a stun-gun at Wheatcroft's testicles and instead zapped him on the thigh as the officer pulled on Wheatcroft's shorts during a struggle.
The police department said there was no proof that Schneider put a stun gun on Wheatcroft's penis.
The lawsuit said Wheatcroft, his wife and their two kids were traumatized by the encounter. They are seeking an unspecified amount of money from Glendale.
Wheatcroft was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest, but the case was later dismissed at the request of prosecutors.
The police department said prosecutors examined the case and declined to charge the officers.
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