A prominent Southern California judge claims UCLA officers roughed him up during what amounted to a seat belt violation citation. Patrick Healy reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013.
A prominent Los Angeles Superior Court Judge claims UCLA police used excessive force Saturday morning when he was pushed against a patrol car, handcuffed and told he was under arrest for what ultimately amounted to a seatbelt violation citation, according to the written complaint he filed with the department.
David S. Cunningham III said he was leaving the parking lot of the Westwood LA Fitness, and after driving a block, had just buckled his seatbelt when a UCLA patrol car pulled him over, his attorney Carl Douglas told NBC News Investigates.
Two officers exited the vehicle when Cunningham stopped on Gayley Avenue, and asked for his license, Douglas said. After Cunningham provided the officer with his wallet and had it returned, he then was asked for proof of insurance and registration.
Cunningham claims as he was reaching for the documents in his glove compartment an officer began yelling at him “not to move,” according to his letter to the police department.
Douglas said when a bottle of prescription pills for high blood pressure rolled out of the compartment, one of the officers asked Cunningham if he was running drugs.
In the written complaint Cunningham filed with UCLA police, he stated that he became "irritated" and told the officer he needed to look for the paperwork. As he got out of his Mercedes to check the trunk for the documents, he was thrown against the car and handcuffed so tightly it left marks on his wrists, Douglas said.
Douglas acknowledged that Cunningham was told to stay in his car, but said the use of force was unnecessary.
“For what,” Douglas said. “For a seatbelt.”
About 10 minutes later a police sergeant arrived and Cunningham was released.
“This says to me that this African American (Sgt.) understood the reality of what was going on,” Douglas said.
The university’s police department issued a response Sunday night confirming Cunningham was stopped and temporarily handcuffed before being released with a citation for failing to wear a seatbelt. It also acknowledged receipt of Cunningham's complaint.
“Due to the pending investigation, additional information is not available at this time,” the statement said.
Cunningham was the former president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, the civilian board that oversees the LAPD, and was a strong proponent of community policing and outspoken in cases of excessive force. He was appointed to the Los Angeles County bench in 2009 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
NBC News' Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.
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