Arrested couple seeks damages in claim of wrongful arrest, use of force
By Chris Caraveo
The city of Glendale is in the middle of a federal lawsuit involving excessive force after one of its officers used a Taser on a vehicle’s passenger 11 times, including in the groin area, according to a complaint.
Nearly two years after the incident occurred, a law firm has since taken up Johnny Wheatcroft’s case to seek damages against Glendale and three of its officer.
Last week, Glendale police released a statement and surveillance camera video regarding a July 26, 2017 incident in a Motel 6 parking lot. Police stated officers were conducting a traffic violation stop on a vehicle and found the driver without a license. Also in the vehicle were Mr. Wheatcroft, his wife Anya Chapman, and their two children, ages 6 and 11.
Police reportedly asked for identification of all the adults. However, Mr. Wheatcroft reportedly inquired about why he was being asked for ID, as he had done nothing wrong, according to the federal complaint filed in 2018.
Within moments, Officer Matthew Schneider tried to pull Mr. Wheatcroft from the video, claiming he was resisting orders. Body-worn camera obtained by multiple media outlets and later released by Mr. Wheatcroft’s attorneys shows Mr. Wheatcroft stuck in a seat belt strap while Mr. Schneider pulled him out of the vehicle. The officer is heard telling Mr. Wheatcroft to stop resisting, all the while tied up.
Police gather in the media
Glendale police showed additional officer-worn body camera footage to the media at the Glendale Regional Public Safety Training Center on Monday as a chance to explain some of what transpired that day.
Officer Tiffany Ngalula invited the Daily News-Sun to the viewing, saying the video released first by ABC 15 and then other media outlets only shows points of view beneficial to Mr. Wheatcroft’s case.
The media was not allowed to record any audio or video during the meeting but could take hand-written notes — similar to a deadly officer-involved shooting of a 14-year-old boy by Tempe police.
At least 12 media members attended the “Media Briefing,” which was conducted at the center 2 miles west of Loop 101 along Glendale Avenue.
The initial start time was 2:30 p.m., but was pushed to 4 p.m. due to a unidentified scheduling conflict. However, media waited outside a building where the briefing was to be located for about 30 minutes as officials prepared the room. Even then, while waiting inside the room, media were instructed to relocate to another room to for the briefing, as it appeared there were technical difficulties in the first room.
Media tried to get police on camera, but were constantly told no due to the ongoing litigation. The goal of the briefing was to provide the video and a chance for police to explain its side of the situation, to ensure both sides were told. The media, in turn, would report back to their “followers.”
Abuse and charges
The federal complaint states Mr. Wheatcroft was Tased 11 times by Mr. Schneider, including in the groin area and buttocks.
At the Monday briefing, police said their policies allow for officers to use a Taser to subdue a resisting individual by targeting a large muscular area, especially with in a “stun drive capacity” which normally requires direct contact. Police claim when Mr. Schneider tried to grab Mr. Wheatcroft’s leg, his shorts – which were reportedly loosely fit – fell down, providing a clear pathway to stun Mr. Wheatcroft in the “gluteal area.”
However, Mr. Wheatcroft and his attorneys are alleging he was Tased in the groin area at least one time. Mr. Wheatcroft was also kicked in the groin after Mr. Schneider appeared to perceive active resistance in the form of a kick.
Police claim the use of a stun gun was justified in most all aspects of the encounter except when Mr. Wheatcroft was handcuffed. They further said Mr. Wheatcroft was not stunned in the testicles but in the thigh area.
When Glendale released surveillance video on Friday afternoon, they stated Ms. Chapman struck Officer Mark Lindsey in the head with a bag of bottled drinks. Apparently, Mr. Lindsey was rendered unconscious. Monday’s briefing appears to show video of Mr. Lindsey regaining some consciousness but still “dazed” from the alleged attack.
Mr. Wheatcroft and Ms. Chapman were both arrested and charged with aggravated assault. However, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office later dropped the charges against Mr. Wheatcroft. Ms. Chapman pleaded guilty to reduced charges in order to return quickly to her children, the complaint states.
A letter informing Mr. Schneider of his 30-hour suspension indicates that Glendale police acknowledged their officer was out of line, and that Mr. Wheatcroft was not resisting during the incident.
Attorneys speak out
At a Monday press conference in Chandler, defense attorney Marc J. Victor made body-camera footage of the incident available at his law firm’s website (see below).
It is unknown how much in damages Mr. Wheatcroft and Ms. Chapman are seeking from Glendale. The city and police department had initially said they were unable to comment on the issue due to the lawsuit.
Mr. Victor said his client did not resist, was Tased without justification, did not possess any illegal drugs or weapons, and was illegally arrested and handcuffed.
According to Arizona law, only the driver of a vehicle is required to provide identification to authorities upon being stopped. A passenger only needs to provide a name.
However, under Arizona Revised Statutes 13-2412, a person is required to provide their true full name only if an officer has reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime.
Mr. Wheatcroft spent about two months in jail until the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges.
Mr. Victor released body-camera video of Officer Mark Lindsey at the hospital. At the beginning, he is asked “what happened,” and initially responds by laughing, then detailing his version of the events.
“It has not escaped our attention that this incident has resulted in a backlash against police officers,” Mr. Victor said, adding his office is pro-good police officers and anti-bad police officers. “Keep that very important distinction in mind.”
Anya Chapman was initially expected to provide a statement, but Jody Broaddus, who is part of Mr. Victor’s office, read the statement, which states the incident has been very traumatic on Ms. Chapman’s family. She and Mr. Wheatcroft have been married nine years and together for 22 years.
Her children reportedly have nightmares about the incident and are scared to leave the house, her statement says. Still, she believes most officers are good while some violate the public’s trust.
The case is expected to go to trial but a date has not been set.
Mr. Victor said Glendale has shown no interest in resolving the case, which the city had a chance to do early on.
Now, he expects a jury to have the final say.
A protest was scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday outside the Glendale Police Department’s main station in downtown Glendale.
VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED: 40 minute video of 2017 use of force incident
Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers released a statement Tuesday acknowledging the incident and feedback he has received from residents:
I assure each of you that our top priority as a Council is public safety — with the expectation of transparency and accountability. I believe that it is imperative that we hold our police officers to the highest professional standards and our citizens have every right to expect nothing less.
This entire incident was subject to an official, critical, comprehensive and independent review in accordance with the Arizona Police Officer Standards and Training procedures and state laws. The review, which occurred when the incident first happened and long before it became public, resulted in disciplinary actions for one officer regarding certain tactics of this complicated event.
In addition, the City forwarded the incident to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for their official review. They notified the City that after their extensive examination, they were declining to pursue criminal prosecution against any of the officers involved.
All of these independent reviews and the disciplinary action happened because of our commitment to accountability and the expectation of a standard of excellence in Glendale.
I have a long history and record of supporting Public Safety, and I do not believe that one incident defines a department or a City. I’m proud that our police officers live in our community, their children go to our schools and they have thousands of positive interactions with the public in the course of their duty every year.
Because this case is currently in litigation, I am limiting my public remarks to this statement, and will not comment further on the incident or on specific details of the case.