Fla. police tweak transport policy after inmate struggle
Officer was forced to drag suspect after she refused to cooperate during transport
By Keith Morelli
Tampa Tribune, Fla.
TAMPA, Fla. — An internal affairs investigation was critical of a Tampa police officer's handling of a woman in his custody at the Hillsborough County jail earlier this month and a written reprimand was placed in the officer's personnel file.
The department, because of this incident, has tweaked its policy on handling inmates, officials said.
Officer Scott Van Treese was the subject of the complaint, filed by corrections officers at the jail. Investigators said he was justified in putting the woman in a restraint that made her look "hog tied" at the time of her arrest. He released her legs from the restraints at the jail. But when she refused to walk into booking, he dragged her and that was a violation of departmental policy, the disposition letter said.
He should have gotten help from jail deputies or other law enforcement officers to take her inside.
The Oct. 5 incident began with Van Treese and another officer checking on a known crack house at 1806 N. Nebraska Ave. in the V.M. Ybor neighborhood, just north of downtown. The location had been the subject of nearly 30 prior calls about illegal drug activity and gambling over the previous eight months, the disposition said.
Van Treese spotted Sonja Mimmenger, 36, sitting on the porch, and the officer had previously issued a trespass warning on her to stay off the property. She was arrested on trespassing charges and possession of cocaine, and began to fight with the officers. She was restrained by a method known as the "total appendage restraint position, to protect her from potential injury," the disposition said.
At the jail, Van Treese got out of the patrol car and put his weapons in the trunk, which is standard procedure, and opened the rear door to talk to Mimmenger "in hopes of gaining new cooperation," the disposition said, but she continued to be uncooperative.
He dragged her out of the car and placed her face down on the concrete, with her hands shackled behind her back, her legs chained to her hands. Van Treese released the leg restraints to allow her to walk.
"He tried to stand her up," the disposition said, "but she remained deliberately limp and slid to the ground."
Van Treese lifted her by holding her left biceps and dragged her into booking, which was captured on a jail surveillance camera. The video was released Thursday.
All the while, Mimmenger, who has 78 prior run-ins with police, 41 arrests and 15 convictions including some for resisting arrest, continued to relax her lower body, the disposition said. A citizen who was riding along with Van Treese that night and witnessed the incident, told investigators: "After arriving at the booking office, she refused to cooperate ... I was impressed by Officer Van Treese's professionalism."
Mimmenger was brought inside where she waited for paramedics to come evaluate her. She later was seen walking out with emergency medical workers, the disposition said. And she later admitted to medical personnel that "she feigned her condition thereby creating the need for transport assistance," the disposition said, and "she even jumped off the gurney and walked around."
Still, investigators said, "Officer Van Treese should have used better judgment in managing the uncooperative defendant by gaining the assistance of booking deputies."
Internal affairs investigators said Van Treese was unaware of the jail's policy of handling prisoners and that deputies are available to assist in situations such as this. Since then, police officials have examined its policy on handling prisoners, said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.
"The department," she said, "is changing its policy on how to transport a passively resistant defendant such as someone refusing to walk. Officers are now required to use a two person technique."
Two weeks later, Mimmenger pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of paraphernalia possession, according to court records, and was sentenced to time served.
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