UPDATE: Collegedale city spokeswoman Bridgett Raper said late Thursday night that the additional body and dash camera footage was not released to the Times Free Press because "Footage had not been downloaded at the time of the request."
She added that a statement made by officer Brighton Spain had not actually been cut from the footage that had been released following an open records request. Instead, "The statement in question was on his dash camera footage, which had not been downloaded at the time of the request," Raper said.
Additionally, Raper notes that Spain was "instructed to schedule a mandatory EAP session for anger and stress management, is not allowed to be an FTO for 1 year, and will be doing remedial training."
Officer Ridgeway received no discipline and Cpl. Strange will be given remedial training, Raper said.
An internal investigation by the Collegedale Police Department has found multiple policy violations by three officers who kept their body cameras muted while speaking with a subject who was improperly cuffed and detained during a traffic stop in September for alleged improper use of a turning lane.
The investigation found that officers Brighton Spain and Julia Ridgeway, as well as Cpl. Sheila Strange, were all in violation of department policies that require their body and dash cameras to record "with audio and video while in direct contact with citizens during the performance of official duties."
The officers failed to record their interaction with 25-year-old Alex Staton during two separate traffic stops that took place within 30 minutes of each other.
Strange and Ridgeway were present during the second stop and spoke to Staton. But in response to an open records request for "the body camera and/or dash camera footage of any officers who responded to the traffic stops involving Alex Staton on Sept. 26, 2019, at 07:03 [a.m.] and again at 07:26 [a.m.]," the police department only provided two clips of body camera footage belonging to Spain.
They did not have any additional videos in their system, patrol division Lt. Jack Sapp said.
However, the internal affairs report references footage of both Ridgeway and Spain's dash cameras, including footage of Staton's vehicle before and after the stops.
The report also references a remark made by Spain that was cut from the footage released to the Times Free Press: After Staton drove away from the initial stop, "Spain's camera continued to record his conversation with Ridgeway, as he vented about Staton's behavior. Spain can be heard saying 'I wanted to rip him out of the f------ car,'" the report states.
Both Strange and Ridgeway were asked about their cameras. Ridgeway told investigating Sgt. Jamie Heath that she had "been having issues with her Body Worn Camera turning itself off and was unsure if she was having technical issues or if she had perhaps got too excited on the traffic stop and had forgotten to turn the camera on."
Strange admitted that her in-car camera had not been activated but claimed to have downloaded all her body camera footage to the department's video system. However, "a search of the archives showed no body camera footage of the incident from Cpl. Strange," Heath noted.
The internal investigation
On Oct. 1, special services Lt. Jeff Young told Heath that "the news media had somehow obtained a copy of [Spain's] video footage prior to it being reviewed," and that Chief Brian Hickman had ordered internal affairs to investigate for any policy and/or criminal violations.
Three days later, the report was complete. It stated that Spain's "video recording" showed Staton, along with "several" other drivers, entering the turning lane in the 4900 block of Apison Pike at around 7 a.m. on Sept. 26 and then driving through a striped "no driving" area of the lane.
Staton was then stopped by Spain because of a burned-out headlight and for entering the turning lane too soon.
"The interaction appeared to be cordial and non-confrontational during the initial contact," the report states, "but when he returned to his patrol car to check the driver's information Spain is recorded saying to Ofc. Ridgeway, his backup officer, that 'Every two words is an argument.'"
When Spain asks him to sign the citation, Staton first asks for an explanation but then complies, saying, "This is amazing how you guys fill your quotas."
By 7:10 a.m., the stop was over and Staton drove away with two traffic citations — one for financial responsibility (for not having a paper copy of his proof of insurance) and one for improper lane use. He also received a warning for the burned-out headlight.
At 7:12 a.m., "the officers' videos go on to show the officer chase after the driver," according to the internal affairs report.
Staton, who had just parked in his Winding Creek apartment parking lot, was stopped again.
Spain's dash camera showed Staton get into the center turning lane once he passed the Wolftever Creek Elementary School's flashing school zone lights and was on the bridge. (Strange told Heath that, had she known that was the point at which Staton entered the turning lane, she wouldn't have thought the traffic stop was justified.)
"Spain drove through the narrow parking lot at speeds that were approaching 20 mph, disregarding speed bumps, and the potential that children or parents may be walking out into the lot or around their cars getting ready to go to school at that time of morning," the report states.
Then, according to the internal investigation and body camera footage, Spain "reached in through the window, unlocked [Staton's] door, opened the door and told him to get out of the car."
Staton steps out of his 2001 Honda Civic, and Spain takes his arm, places him in handcuffs and walks him to his patrol vehicle, where Spain frisks him before placing him in the back of the patrol car.
At that point, the microphone of Spain's body camera is muted. For 15 minutes, the sound remains off.
During those moments of silence, the internal affairs report describes a back-and-forth between Strange and Spain, who believed he "had enough grounds" to arrest Staton, while Strange "explained to him that he did not and ordered him to remove Staton from custody."
According to the report, Spain thought that, based on Staton being "verbally resistant and hostile and his refusal to sign his citation while being verbally combative and citing quotas," he was "justified in stopping and placing him into custody for officer safety."
Since Spain kept referring to Staton as an "unknown risk," Heath asked him why he approached the vehicle instead of calling the driver out, as officers are trained to do.
Spain acknowledged his actions were outside of training and told Heath he "moved too fast" and that he was "amped up" because Staton had "allegedly committed the same offense he had just been stopped for."
Spain further described "how upset he had been that day because of Staton's behavior."
He told Heath that Staton "had brought up the recent termination of four officers and accused Spain of targeting him for a quota" and that he "took [it] to heart" because he does "passionately care whether or not people make it to their destination and there's never once or never have been a quota, so I was a little irritable on my part."
He also stated his "mental stability" may have been impacted by his working 83 hours, 35 of which were voluntary, without a day off.
By the end of the investigation, Spain was found to have engaged in "conduct unbecoming to a police officer," according to his internal affairs report. But police and city officials did not respond to questions about what kind of discipline, if any, he or the other two officers face.
The investigation comes after three officers were fired for the same allegation — conduct unbecoming — because they allegedly did not regularly check on houses that were on the department's "watch list," something police Sgt. Michael Westfield called a failure "to comply with my orders."
A "watch list" is a list of houses that are under surveillance either for suspicious activity or because the resident asked for police to check on it while they were out of town.
In December 2018, the department began directing officers to meet a minimum number of "enforcement actions" and "patrol activities" each month, according to one of multiple lawsuits against the city and its police department. Enforcement actions mean written citations or arrests, and patrol activities include neighborhood, business and school patrols.
Each officer had to complete at least 25 enforcement actions and 100 patrol activities, something that attorney Janie Parks Varnell argues is against state law.