Tased Genitals During Traffic Stop: ‘Unlawful, Potentially Criminal, and One of the Most Cruel and Troubling Cases of Police Misconduct,’ Say Police Experts
by Brooke Kaufman
Glendale, Arizona, police officer Matt Schneider is facing a civil rights lawsuit for excessive force after tasing a vehicle passenger 11 times, including one tase to the genitals, during a traffic stop. The passenger, Johnny Wheatcroft, filed the suit in Arizona federal court after being tased while handcuffed and restrained face down on 108-degree parking lot pavement.
According to Courthouse New Service’s record of the stop, Schneider and two other officers are seen on body camera footage approaching Wheatcroft’s vehicle in a Motel 6 parking lot on July 26, 2017. Officers ask Wheatcroft’s wife, the driver, to hand over her license after she failed to signal when turning into the parking lot. When asked to also provide ID, Wheatcroft refuses, upon which Schneider threatens to take Wheatcroft to the police station. Schneider then claims to have seen Wheatcroft place an object between the seats or at his feet, which Wheatcroft denies. Schneider opens the passenger door and places his Taser on Wheatcroft’s shoulder. According to the lawsuit, Wheatcroft was tased a total of 11 times, including a tase “in an area that appears to be close to Wheatcroft’s genitals.” In the footage, Wheatcroft’s children are heard in the background crying and screaming, “No, daddy.”
Law enforcement professionals who viewed the footage told ABC15 that the officers’ actions were “unlawful, potentially criminal, and one of the most cruel and troubling cases of police misconduct they’ve ever seen.”
Lowering the Bar’s coverage of the court’s denial of Schneider’s assertion of qualified immunity regarding Wheatcroft’s excessive force claim states that, per motel security footage, officers were unable to see the car signal from where they were parked: “Although by ‘traffic stop,’ I mean they lied about seeing the car turn into the lot without signaling. That kind of technical violation might justify a stop, but here security-cam footage made it clear the officers could not have seen the car turn because they were a block away in a back alley at the time.”
The Glendale police department issued a statement following the release of the body cam footage. According to ABC15, the statement is contradicted by the footage and the department’s own internal investigation of Schneider’s conduct. This investigation, however, was delayed until ABC15 took interest in the case.
Lowering the Bar weighed in, writing: “… initially no one was disciplined for this, and the department and city blew off its requests for comment. After the reports started to air, the department conducted an internal investigation, after which it suspended Schneider. For three days. (It was his fourth suspension.) But that was it, and prosecutors also declined to charge him. Only after the reports continued and the body-cam footage was released in 2019 did they reopen the case.”
Schneider was charged with aggravated assault and is no longer with the police department. (Although, he retired on “accidental disability” and will keep his pension.) He is also named as a defendant in the civil case.
It should be noted that, legally, Wheatcroft did not have to provide ID to the officers. The “stated reason” for the traffic stop was a traffic infraction that could only be committed by the driver, not a passenger.
In denying the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the court wrote: “Accepting Wheatcroft’s version of the facts, a jury could find that the Officer’s use of force here was unreasonable. Wheatcroft was Tasered six times, forcibly removed from a car where he was a passenger, and handcuffed, all in about five minutes from when Officer Schneider first went ‘hands on’ with Wheatcroft. Defendants do not argue that the amount of force the Officers used against Wheatcroft was small, but rather, was justified under the circumstances. But these circumstances — as the Defendants present them to the Court — all come from the point of view of the Defendants themselves. Thus, the Officers ‘have done little more than present their own version of the facts and ask the court to rule in their favor...,’” according to the court. And thus, Wheatcroft will get his day in court, unless the case is settled, to have a jury decide the reasonableness of the cop’s actions.
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