Caught on police body-camera: Excessive force or justified action?
05/03/2017 1:38 pm PDT
It is shocking video to watch: A woman Tasered by police at her workplace. Was it excessive force or was it justified?
Your opinion may change when you hear both sides of the story.
An intense encounter between a suspect and police was caught on a Florida police officer's body-camera.
But this is no hardened criminal being taken down. It's a middle-aged woman about to get the shock of her life.
Aranda Wendell's alleged crime? Allegedly leaving the scene of a traffic accident.
How did a simple police interview about a fender-bender turn into such a twisted mess, with a video going viral and a police chief red-flagging both sides?
It all begins on a sunny morning in Stuart, Florida, a couple of hours north of Miami.
Aranda Wendell is on her way to work at a day spa when her car is hit in a minor accident -- though she claims she didn't even realize there was serious damage to her car.
The encounter with Stuart Police Officer Chris Heitfeld begins innocently enough. But within seconds he pulls out his Miranda warning card and reads Aranda her rights.
Aranda defiantly puts her hand on her hip ... Setting the tone for what goes down next.
Aranda tells the officer she was tapped by another vehicle in traffic, but that she didn't realize or think it was an accident. Officer Heitfeld asks why she didn't stop, and tells her state law requires a driver to stop when involved in a traffic collision. She tells him she didn't know that was the law, and that she didn't consider the incident a crash.
"Most people involved in a crash usually stop," says Heitfeld.
"I didn't consider it being involved, honey, I'm sorry," says Wendell.
"Don't call me 'honey,' please," Heitfeld says.
"Don't call me then, don't talk to me -- how's that?" says Wendell.
"All right, turn around," Heitfeld says.
"No," says Wendell.
"Put your hands behind your back," Heitfeld says.
"I'm not playing games," Wendell says.
"I am not playing games either," says Heitfeld. "You're gonna get tased -- stop resisting. You're under arrest."
During the resulting struggle, the body-camera is knocked to the floor. You can hear Aranda Wendell on the floor kicking and screaming. And then, the electric charge of the Taser sends thousands of volts of electricity into her body. Wendell is taken into custody.
Once in handcuffs, the officer tells her she's under arrest for resisting arrest and resisting with violence, for kicking himself and another officer.
"We decided to look into our three-county area to see exactly how aggressive the police had been when it comes to encounters with the public," said Holsman.
The video's release forced Stuart Police Chief David Dyess to explain the out-of-control situation. He says both Aranda Wendell and his officer should have handled things differently.
"I think that both of them had some sarcasm and there's no doubt that the officer could have used a little better tact in his approach," said Dyess. "However, Ms. Wendell had choices as well. She could have stayed at the scene of the accident. She didn't have to resist the officer."
The chief says the cops did nothing wrong by using a Taser on Aranda, and it was within department policy because she was heavily resisting.
"She was obviously a pretty scrappy person. So the two officers felt like they weren't able to bring her under control, to get her hands behind her back," said Dyess.
Interestingly, this isn't the only case where someone alleges Officer Heitfeld went too far.
"He has had accusations of verbal problems we have been addressing," said Dyess.
Crime Watch Daily uncovered another lawsuit claiming Heitfeld roughed up a woman at a waterfront restaurant after she got into a dispute with a valet. In the lawsuit Sabrina Chase claims Heitfeld threw her to the ground, kneed her in the groin, crushed her hand, wrist and face into the paving, and then handcuffed and slammed her into the patrol car.
The charge of resisting arrest was dropped, and the police are asking that the suit be dismissed.
Chief Dyess says when he and the state's attorney saw the video with Aranda, they decided to drop all charges.
"So that type of a case has not very high jury appeal, so their belief in their ability to win this case was not high," said Dyess.
But still angry, Aranda sued the city, claiming physical suffering, humiliation and emotional damage. She agreed to do an interview with Crime Watch Daily but cancelled at the last minute. She said she's been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of what happened to her that she's constantly fearful of police now.
Aranda Wendell eventually settled out of court for $20,000, demanding the officer receive sensitivity training.
For now she's back at work at her day spa, and the officer is still on the beat.
Now after seeing the video and hearing both sides, what do you think? Was the officer just doing his job or was this an example of excessive force? Tell us what you think in the Comments section below.