The UCLA Police Department has cleared two officers accused by an African American judge of using excessive force after stopping him for not wearing a seat belt.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Cunningham III, a former police commission president, filed a complaint and later a legal claim for $10 million, alleging that Officers Kevin Dodd and James Kim used unreasonable force and racial profiling in the Nov. 23 traffic stop in Westwood.
But UCLA officials found that the evidence did not support the allegation after an investigation reviewed a dashboard camera recording from the officers' police cruiser.
"UCLA police fully investigated Judge Cunningham's complaint as required by law but did not find sufficient evidence to sustain the allegations," the university said in a statement to The Times, noting that a letter was sent to the judge Monday morning. "We are distressed when anyone feels disrespected by our officers or anyone who represents UCLA."
The statement came shortly after Cunningham's lawyers went public Monday with a $10-million legal claim they filed on his behalf against UCLA police.
"It's regrettable but not surprising that they would disavow responsibility for Judge Cunningham's treatment," said attorney Carl Douglas. "Any fair-minded individual who sees the video would be appalled by what they see."
Cunningham alleges that the officers stopped him 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.
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 officer 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 effect 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 over his wallet. Then the officers requested registration and insurance forms.
When Cunningham reached toward 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.
The university did not address specifics of the incident beyond the statement Monday. But after Cunnningham's initial complaint against the UCLA officers, the university said he had ignored their orders to stay in his car.
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