An African American judge has filed a $10-million claim alleging excessive force and racial profiling by UCLA's campus police when he was handcuffed and put into a police cruiser after being stopped last fall for not wearing a seat belt.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Cunningham III, a former police commission president, alleges in the claim filed Jan. 16 that two UCLA Police Department officers, Kevin Dodd and James Kim, used unreasonable force and that their motivation was racial profiling.
The judge alleges the officers stopped him on Nov. 23 in Westwood seconds after he left an LA Fitness gym, shoved him against his car, handcuffed him and locked him in the back seat of a police cruiser until a black sergeant arrived.
He alleges the only explanation for the conduct was "his African American race," as he did not pose a threat and was not even near university property.
One of Cunningham's attorneys, Carl Douglas, said he reviewed a police car video recording of a conversation between the sergeant and the officer.
"The sergeant asks "Are you sure you want this battle?'" Douglas said. "Officer Dodd then replies, 'Not afraid of any battle.'"
"The more experienced sergeant was giving the younger officers a chance to bow out gracefully from the foreseeable firestorm from this detention ... " Douglas said. "Instead, the officer said he was willing to take on this battle."
Cunningham issued a statement Monday, saying: "I am shaken, battered and bruised by this ordeal. I fear that I have suffered nerve damage in my wrists.
"Although I am a former Police Commission president," he continued, "I never realized what a profound affect such a negative encounter could have on someone until this happened to me."
According to Cunningham's account, he was pulled over in his Mercedes-Benz about 10 a.m. as he was buckling his seat belt after paying a parking attendant near LA Fitness. He was dressed in a black athletic shirt and shorts.
Dodd asked to see his driver's license. Cunningham handed them his wallet. Then the officers requested registration and insurance forms.
When Cunningham reached for his glove box, an officer "yelled at me not to move," he alleged in the complaint. "I became irritated and told him that I need to look for the paper."
A prescription pill bottle rolled out of the glove compartment, prompting the officer to ask if he was carrying drugs. The medicine was for high blood pressure, Douglas said.
According to the claim and a complaint against the department, Cunningham couldn't find the paperwork in the glove compartment and told the officers he thought it might be in the trunk.
The claim, a precursor to a lawsuit required when suing a government agency in California, alleges that when Cunningham went to search his trunk, Dodd and Kim rushed him and handcuffed him.
Douglas said a videotape from the police car shows the judge handcuffed with his legs still outside the rear door and the jurist being pushed back into the seat with his legs going into the air.
Cunningham, who had reviewed hundreds of potential police misconduct matters during his time on the Police Commission, began to fear for his safety and began yelling about police brutality and demanded they call a supervisor, Douglas said.
UCLA is conducting an internal investigation into Cunningham's allegations. But in statements following the detention, the department said he ignored officers' orders to stay in his car.
"During the course of the traffic stop, police officers instructed the driver to stay inside the vehicle and returned to their patrol car to run a routine license and registration check," UCLA said in a statement. "Despite these instructions, the driver left the vehicle – an escalating behavior that can place officers at risk."
Cunningham "stood in the roadway" and refused to get back in his car, the statement said.
The judge was released at the scene shortly after being cited for failing to wear a seat belt.