Police in Coldwater, Mich., are facing a federal civil rights lawsuit after one woman, 31-year-old Tiffany McNeil, claims that they used excessive force during her arrest in a brutal and bloody incident caught on camera, and then lied about what happened.
McNeil said that she was slammed to the ground and knocked out cold while handcuffed in a secure entrance to the county jail, the Detroit Free Press reports.
“It was absolutely egregious, disgusting, thuglike conduct,” McNeil’s attorney, Solomon Radner, said. “You don’t expect that from police officers, and it shouldn’t be tolerated.”
McNeil’s encounter with police started at her home earlier this year on July 24. Her husband called the police during an argument, according to the lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court. In the lawsuit, it is acknowledged that McNeil had been drinking at the time.
Things appear to have gone awry, however, at the Branch County Jail, where police officers and McNeil can be seen on video inside the secured entrance area of the jail. In the video, an officer, identified as Lewis Eastmead, can be seen holding McNeil, who is handcuffed against a wall, her face pressed against the structure.
Eastmead appears to use all his body weight to press McNeil into the wall. McNeil yells at the officer, who then drags her from the wall and slams her, face-first, on the ground, basically landing on top of her. At least five other officers were around at the time, standing nearby.
“I told you to relax,” Eastmead can be heard yelling while kneeling on McNeil’s back as she lay unmoving on the ground.
According to the Daily Reporter, the lawsuit claims that “Officer Eastmead then continued to yell at her to be quiet even though she was unconscious and bleeding profusely from her head. ... He did however yell at her lifeless body to ‘roll over!’”
The lawsuit also accuses Officers Matt Schoenauer and Suleiman Sumbal, who were in the jail entrance area throughout the incident, of failing to protect McNeil during the incident.
When the officer rolls McNeil over, a pool of blood is revealed under McNeil’s head, the video shows. Her handcuffs are eventually removed, while another officer checks for her pulse.
According to McNeil attorney Radner, McNeil had to be taken to the hospital, where she received 17 stitches for a cut over her eye. She also suffered from a concussion, the lawyer said.
The lawsuit further claims that after the fact, the officer and two others lied about what occurred on police reports (which seems like a pretty stupid thing to do, considering that they were taped). Also, according to the lawsuit, “the reports accused McNeil of being ‘combative’ and ‘actively resisting’ arrest before she fell to the ground.” (All on her own?)
In addition to excessive force, the lawsuit claims unreasonable seizure, abuse of process and malicious prosecution. Eastmead and some dozen other officers and supervisors, including those who witnessed the encounter, have been named as defendants.
The lawsuit is seeking at least $75,000 in damages.
McNeil, for her part, was charged with domestic violence and resisting a police officer. She pleaded no contest to domestic violence, while officials dropped the resisting arrest charge.
The lawsuit claims that she was charged with a felony count of resisting a police officer only to justify the officer’s brutal use of force and to pressure her into taking a plea bargain.
Radner said that McNeil has no recollection of what happened at the jail.