Police chief: Officer’s use of Taser violated VBPD’s policy

Virginia Beach Police Chief Jim A. Cervera

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach’s police chief talked to the media Monday about the investigation into video of a January traffic stop. The citizen video, that went viral on Facebook, shows a teenage passenger being pepper sprayed and stunned before being arrested.

Around 9 p.m. January 10, Courtney Griffith was driving a vehicle with Brandon Wyne and another friend as passengers. Griffith said they were returning to her home on Darnell Drive when her car was surrounded by police. That’s when Griffith start recording the traffic stop on her cell phone.

Police officers told Griffith she and her friends were not being arrested, but were being detained for the smell of marijuana. The situation escalated when Wyne wouldn’t get out of the car. He told police he was going to wait to get out of the car until his mother arrived because he was a minor — that’s something Police Chief Jim Cervera said Wyne could not do.

“We have to contact the parent, if we are going to interrogate a juvenile, that is, we read the juvenile his or her constitutional guarantees, then we are supposed to contact a parent,” Cervera said. “To tell a juvenile to be removed from a vehicle, we don’t call parents.”

When Wyne refused to exit Griffith’s vehicle, officers pepper sprayed him and then shot him with a Taser. He then told the officers he would get out of the car, but before he could, he was stunned again.

At Monday’s press conference, Cervera confirmed police stunned Wyne three times — twice inside the vehicle and once outside. He said the officer’s use of the Taser violated the Virginia Beach Police Department’s excessive force policy.

“Up to the Taser, everything was in policy. Once the taser was utilized, it was outside of policy,” Cervera said.

Gary Byler, the attorney representing 17-year-old Wyne, said both the use of the Taser and the pepper spray was excessive.

“We expect 17-year-olds to act like 17-year-olds, that’s why we train and hire police officers to deescalate a situation. There were no weapons involved in this, until the police introduced weapons,” Byler said.

Byler also told 10 On Your Side he has requested to see the video captured by the officer’s Taser, but the city has refused. “I think the video is going to show an incapacitated minor being tased a third time,” he said.

At the news conference, 10 On Your Side asked Chief Cervera why the video hasn’t been released. The chief responded, “Because, at this particular time, it’s on an internal investigation, and I have to contact the Commonwealth’s attorney to see if they will allow release of that, based on any kind of criminal investigation.”

The 17-year-old was charged with assault on a police officer, obstruction of justice and marijuana possession. All of those charges still stand, according to Chief Cervera. However, even though he admitted officers violated department policy, Chief Cervera would not say what disciplinary action the officers will face.

The fallout for the officer who fired the Taser can be anything from retraining to dismissal, Cervera said. The officer now has a legal opportunity to respond.

Cervera also said their investigation determined an officer stopped the cell phone video recording the traffic stop, but said, “right now, we can’t determine if or when it was in fact deleted.” He said the department is going beyond what is normally done in an investigation to figure out if the video was deleted.

The Commonwealth’s attorney’s office said it also reviewed the officers’ use of force. He determined there was no evidence of a crime and declined to prosecute the officers, relating to use of force. The CA’s office only looked at the officers’ actions from a criminal perspective — they did not look to see if the officers followed VBPD policies and procedures.

The CA’s office did, however, review the issue of the video allegedly being deleted by an officer and determined further investigation is needed to decide if a crime was committed. While VBPD investigates that issue, the Commonwealth deferred prosecution, pending further evidence.

Scott Hallaner represents Courtney Griffith, the driver of the car that was pulled over. He told 10 On Your Side he was disappointed that the Commonwealth’s attorney did not bring any charges against the officer for deleting the video. He said his client has been cooperative with the police investigation and has even given her cell phone back to them, as of Monday, for further analysis.

Hallaner said he is now looking into the possibility of a lawsuit for violation of his clients first, fourth and fourteenth amendment rights.

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Below is the cell phone video taken by Courtney Griffin of the traffic stop by Virginia Beach police on January 10, 2015:

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