CLEARWATER — Kevin McCue, whose videotaped September 2015 arrest shows a Clearwater police officer pulling him out of the back of a police SUV and stepping on his chest while he’s handcuffed and on the ground, is seeking at least $15,000 in damages from the city.
According to the lawsuit filed March 15 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, as a result of a “violent and unnecessary” assault by police, McCue sustained “a torn right rotator cuff, back and neck injuries, bruises, scratches, cuts, and aggravations to his pre-existing heart and psychological conditions, as well as a new psychological condition of post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Jeff Williams, one of the officers named in the lawsuit, told superiors at the time that he believed the allegedly drunk and disorderly McCue, who was bleeding slightly on the cheek and neck, was trying to spit on him. The officer wrote in his report that he used his foot to keep McCue from raising up because he feared exposure to HIV. Williams, Clearwater Police officer Justin Murray, and Clearwater Firefighter John Savage also told internal affairs investigators that the handcuffed McCue had threatened to shoot himself and the officers.
The department admits that Williams momentarily put his foot on McCue’s chest, but denies any officers beat or otherwise injured McCue.
In fact, Williams received a one-day suspension for “use of force contrary to policy” and was required to attend a one-day course in de-escalation, an internal affairs report on the arrest shows. Williams was also removed from the department’s elite Emergency Response Team for two years.
“From the department standpoint, it has been administratively resolved,” Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter told the Beacon last week. “The officer pushed him with his foot after he removed him and he was on the ground handcuffed. It was not necessary or consistent with our policy, but minor in nature.”
April Goodwin, who is representing McCue, said in the three years since the incident, McCue has not sought damages.
“There has been no other court case involving this incident … and no court case in which the city had the opportunity to answer in court,” Goodwin said. “This is it.”
The lawsuit also alleges that someone in the police department or the city government erased or removed the police beating from the security footage of the incident. Indeed, the video of the incident, which aired on local cable news affiliates and is still available online, begins with McCue out of view in the back of the police vehicle. Williams, another officer and Clearwater paramedics can be seen standing outside the open side doors of the police SUV.
Williams leans into the back door and can be seen attempting to pull McCue from the vehicle. A second officer, Murray, assists. They pull him out and lay him on the ground. As McCue lays on his side and back, Williams briefly pushes his foot on the arrestee’s chest. The rest of the 15-minute video shows paramedics tending to McCue, putting him on a stretcher and pushing the stretcher to an ambulance.
The lawsuit claims that any footage the security cameras recorded before Williams stepped on McCue’s chest was intentionally destroyed to hide evidence of McCue’s beating.
“Officers instructed other city employees to edit the video of the incident in order to cover up their excessive force committed against (McCue),” the suit states.
“The officers never had access to edit any videotape,” Slaughter told the Beacon. “The police department supervisor obtained it from another city department during his review of the incident.
The incident began around 10 p.m., when police were called to the parking lot of the Clearwater Beach Municipal Marina to investigate complaints of a couple arguing. Williams interviewed McCue and Murray spoke with the woman, Amy Lajoie. Lajoie told Murray she wanted to go home but wanted to get her cell phone from McCue’s Ford Mustang. McCue gave his keys to Williams so he could open the car. Williams wrote in his report that the woman told him the cell phone was in the trunk of McCue’s car. When Williams opened the trunk, he saw a Florida dealer transport tag and no tag on the back end of the Mustang.
When Williams told McCue he could not use the tag outside of transporting cars for business, McCue got angry, Williams wrote in his report. The discussion devolved more as McCue began to curse at the officer and stated he wanted to shoot Williams in the head. Out came the cuffs. Williams arrested McCue for disorderly conduct and put him in the back of the SUV.
According to Slaughter said, McCue then told Williams that he had a pacemaker and requested medical treatment. Williams called the paramedics, who arrived and stood outside the rear of the SUV.
The security video kicks in shortly after McCue refused to come out of the vehicle. That’s when Williams pulled McCue out and lays him on the ground.
The suit accuses Williams and Murray of battery, excessive use of force and other counts; it accuses Murray of failing to intervene in the alleged beating, and accuses the city and police of “condoning the use of excessive force, of falsification of police reports, and of maintaining an atmosphere of lawlessness, abusiveness, dishonesty, and unconstitutional misconduct.”
“From my recollection, Mr. McCue was drunk and belligerent,” the police chief told the Beacon. “He was being disorderly and eventually had to be taken into custody. The initial arrest did not require any force, and he was placed in a cruiser. When paramedics arrived, the paramedics needed him to get out of the cruiser to get treated. He refused to get out and the officer forcefully removed him.”
Goodwin said her client was open to a settlement.
“As always, we are open to settlement discussions with the defendants, but my client is prepared to litigate his case to trial if need be,” she said.