Footage of a Black woman detained by an Aurora, Colorado police officer shows that he ignored her cries for help as she struggled to breathe in the patrol car’s backseat.

After cuffing her hands and feet, officer Levi Huffine refused to help 28-year-old Shataeah Kelly when she landed upside-down on her neck in the vehicle during an arrest in August 2019, Vice reports. She sat like that for 21 minutes while continually imploring the officer to help her sit upright, apologized for her actions, and said she couldn’t breathe. She was arrested for allegedly fighting with a woman in a park.

“I obviously thought I was going to die,” Kelly told KDVR. She remained in that position until the officer transported her to jail. “Once he started driving, I’m like, ‘Pick me up, like I can’t breathe,’” she added.

“Twenty-one minutes is a long time to be up under a car seat, shackled, and you can’t get yourself up, and your neck is half crushed,” Kelly said. “I even called him master,” Kelly said, “I really felt like a slave that day.” 

The incident was investigated by an Aurora city disciplinary board, which considered charging Huffine. But because Kelly wasn’t seriously injured, the board suggested he be suspended for 180 hours in lieu of charges.

Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson then overturned the board’s ruling and fired Huffine in February. He has since appealed to the Aurora Civil Service Commission, which is determining if he will remain terminated.

“It makes me sick. We are not judge, jury, and executioner,” Wilson testified during a Commission hearing Tuesday. “We are not to treat people inhumanely like they don’t matter. And he is lucky she did not die in the backseat of that car. Because he would be, in my opinion, in an orange jumpsuit right now.”

Huffine explained to the Civil Service Commission on Wednesday that he cuffed Kelly’s hands and feet because she allegedly tried to escape the patrol car and was acting rowdy. However, Kelly had already told KDVR in July that she was moving around in the backseat because she was trying to tell the officer that the other person involved in the altercation had actually started the fight.

During his testimony, Huffine conceded that he could have dealt with the arrest differently: “I told her to shut up. I told her to be quiet,” he said.

Charges against Kelly have been dropped. This is the second time the Aurora Police Department has come under scrutiny for negligence and excessive force. Earlier this year, 23-year-old Elijah McClain was killed in police custody.

Trigger Warning: video below contains graphic content

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