Video shows alleged excessive use of force in lawsuit
Chang Ho Lee of Prattville, Ala. filed federal suit stemming from traffic arrest in Sept. 2012
By Marty Roney
The Montgomery Advertiser
PRATTVILLE, Ala. — A police department video chronicles the arrest at the center of a South Korean man's federal lawsuit alleging excessive use of force by five Prattville officers.
Chang Ho Lee of Prattville filed the lawsuit in July. The suit names five officers and alleges they used excessive force during his traffic arrest Sept. 22, 2012. The lawsuit goes on to claim that officers purposefully didn't video the arrest.
The Montgomery Advertiser received a copy of the video through a Freedom of Information request. Prattville Police Chief Mark Thompson and City Attorney David McDowell have declined to comment on the incident, citing a pending criminal trial and the lawsuit. Both men did say that the video, which runs about 40 minutes, was not edited before being turned over to the newspaper.
The suit stipulates Lee ran a red light about 1 a.m. while he was driving home. He noticed a patrol car was in the area and pulled over and waited for officers, according to the lawsuit. The suit states he told officers he drank alcohol earlier that evening and says Lee wasn't impaired when he ran the light.
The alleged abuse occurred after officers had Lee blow into a Breathalyzer to test his blood-alcohol content. The officer with the Breathalyzer is shown on the video instructing Lee how to blow into the device. The officer told other officers Lee wasn't blowing into the device properly, that he was blowing out of the side of his mouth. The device registered a BAC of .06, and it was at that time when Lee was told he was being arrested. A BAC of .08 is considered intoxicated for purposes of a charge of driving under the influence.
A struggle began after Lee was told he was under arrest, and officers tried to handcuff him. At that time the video screen goes dark, but the audio portion of the tape continues. It appears on the video that the camera the officer was using was attached to the front of his uniform shirt, and that the camera was knocked to the ground once the struggle began.
One officer is heard several times in the audio ordering Lee to give the officer his hands. The struggle lasted three to five minutes. About one minute into the struggle, another officer is heard to say "Tase that mother----!"
The audio captures the electric pops of the stun gun being deployed, followed by the screams of Lee. The struggle continues and the electric pops are heard again, followed by screams and Lee apparently telling officers, "I'm hurting."
The struggle ends, and the officer retrieves the camera that had been knocked to the ground and reattaches it to his shirt. The footage shows Lee, handcuffed on the ground, with a bloody right elbow. Officers say medics from the fire department are on the way to check Lee out, which is standard procedure when a Taser is used on a person. Lee is moved to the curb and is shown sitting cross-legged with his hands cuffed behind him.
As medics arrive, officers show them where Lee had been Tased several times.
As medics are dressing Lee's bleeding elbow, an officer is heard on the tape saying, "Mr. Lee, do you want to go to the hospital?"
"No," Lee answers.
Another officer questions whether Lee understood what the first officer said.
The first officer repeats, "Mr. Lee, do you want to go to the hospital?"
"No problem," Lee answers.
Lee was charged with public intoxication, resisting arrest and running a red light, Prattville Municipal Court records show. He was found guilty of those charges, and he appealed the case to Autauga County Circuit Court, courthouse records show. His case was set to come up in the criminal docket that begins Monday but has been continued to Dec. 9, courthouse records show.
Tom Azar, one of Lee's attorneys in the criminal case, said the video will play a key role in the trial. Azar is not involved in the federal lawsuit. Azar's co-counsel is Young Ui Cho Gregg, who also represents Lee in the federal lawsuit.
"I think the jury will see plainly that Mr. Lee was in control of his faculties and cooperative with officers up until he was Tasered several times," Azar said. "We don't feel his actions constitute resisting arrest. We feel he was reacting to the treatment he was receiving.
"As to the public intoxication charge, we feel the evidence will show that the level of alcohol in Mr. Lee's system does not approach the level required in the statute."
Azar said the language barrier could have played a role in the incident.
"I think the video plainly shows Mr. Lee may have had problems understanding the officer's directions when it comes to how the officer wanted him to blow into the Breathalyzer," he said.
All three charges against Lee are violations and aren't considered felonies or misdemeanors, said Jessica Sanders, assistant district attorney.
Gregg declined to comment on what the video shows or how it will affect the pending federal lawsuit.
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