Fla. officer fired for excessive force during DUI arrest

Officer Coffey said he would not do anything differently; suspect was verbally assaulting him, threatening to bite him to infect him with hepatitis C

By Rachael Joyner
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. Video footage of Officer David Coffey grabbing a prisoner by the throat, pushing him against a metal bench and smashing his head into a concrete wall was part of the evidence that cost the officer his job.

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Coffey, 27, was fired after an internal investigation for using excessive force after a DUI arrest, the Boynton Beach Police Department announced Thursday.

"It was gratuitous violence," Police Chief Matt Immler said during a news conference. "His actions were not justified by the situation."

The seven-month investigation began when Adam Weiss, 42, alleged in a complaint April 4 that Coffey used a stun gun on him four times as he was handcuffed and being put into a transport van to be taken to the Palm Beach County Jail, police said. Weiss said Coffey used the Taser excessively to inflict pain on him for no reason, according to the complaint.

Coffey, however, told investigators that he would not have done anything differently March 31, the night of the arrest. He said Weiss was verbally assaulting him, saying he was going to bite him to infect him with hepatitis C and that he wanted his mother to get cancer, according to the internal affairs report.

Weiss began kicking Coffey in the shins and would not stop, despite verbal warnings, Coffey said during the investigation. That is when he used his stun gun on Weiss.

The investigation showed the Taser was used three times on Weiss' abdomen and once on his back. Coffey told internal affairs officers that he only meant to use the stun gun three times but it malfunctioned, according to the report.

Coffey could be reached for comment, despite several calls to his home. No one answered the door at Weiss' home Thursday evening.

The DUI charge against Weiss, as well as one count of battery on a law enforcement officer, were ultimately dropped, according to state records.

Coffey, who was hired by the department in October 2005, was reassigned to administrative duty on April 5 and placed on paid administrative leave on July 20.

"It does not appear to me that it was necessary to use the Taser since the prisoner was not in a position to physically threaten police officers nor was he preparing ... to flee," said City Manager Kurt Bressner, who on Wednesday approved Immler's recommendation to fire Coffey. His "actions placed the prisoner at risk of suffering substantial and possibly fatal injury."

Coffey had received at least three awards during his time at the police department, including officer of the month, according to his personnel file. His recent reviews were good, and he had one discipline on his record.

"Excluding this incident, he did a good job from what I could see," Immler said. "He was productive and had a lot of initiative."

"This is hard on all of us, but we had to ensure that this didn't happen again," Immler said. "In this instance, Officer David Coffey breached his duty to the profession and the citizens of Boynton Beach by utilizing an excessive amount of force against a prisoner when no force, or at best minimal force, was authorized."

Coffey can appeal the decision but has not yet done so, Immler said.

Copyright 2007 South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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