A prominent African American judge has filed a complaint against two UCLA police officers, accusing them of using excessive force when they pulled him over for not wearing a seat belt.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David S. Cunningham III, a former Los Angeles Police Commission president, said the officers shoved him against his car, handcuffed him, locked him in the back of their police cruiser and told him he was being detained for resisting arrest.
Cunningham’s complaint does not attribute the incident to his race, but his attorney said race was clearly a factor in the officers’ behavior.
“Do you think this would have happened if he was a white judge?” the attorney, Carl Douglas, said Monday, calling for both officers to be removed from the field immediately.
UCLA said it is investigating the incident.
The 60-year-old judge, dressed in a black gym shirt and shorts, was pulled over as he was leaving L.A. Fitness in Westwood about 10 a.m. Saturday.
Cunningham said in his complaint that he was in the process of buckling his belt after paying a parking attendant when a UCLA police cruiser stopped his Mercedes at 1050 Gayley Avenue, according to his complaint.
After pulling Cunningham over, two officers got out of their patrol car, the complaint says.
When Cunningham asked why he was being stopped, one of the officers told him it was because he began buckling his seat belt when he saw them, Douglas said.
Officer Kevin Dodd asked to see his driver’s license. Cunningham handed them his wallet, then the officers requested registration and insurance.
When Cunningham reached for his glove box to retrieve the documents, an officer “yelled at me not to move,” he said 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. Douglas said the medicine was for high blood pressure.
Cunningham couldn’t find his registration and insurance paperwork in the glove compartment and told officers he thought it was in the trunk.
“When I go out of the car to search my trunk, Officer Dodd shoved me against my car, told me I was under arrest for resisting and locked me in the back seat,” Cunningham wrote in the complaint, which was first reported by NBC News.
Douglas said the judge was tossed into the back of the police cruiser’s back seat with such force that his feet flew up in the air. The second officer, identified as James Kim, accused him of “kicking.”
The judge, who as an L.A. police commissioner had reviewed hundreds of potential police misconduct matters, began to fear for his safety, Douglas said.
“He lost his cool,” Douglas said. “He began yelling about police brutality and about being a 60-year-old man slapped in handcuffs in the back of a patrol car for not wearing a seat belt. A crowd was gathering and he demanded they call a watch commander.”
After about 10 minutes, a UCLA police sergeant arrived and released Cunningham, who was appointed to the bench in 2009 by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
UCLA police, citing the pending investigation, provided only limited information about the traffic stop. They said the judge was pulled over at 10:05 a.m. Saturday and “temporarily handcuffed during the course of a traffic stop.”
He was cited for failing to wear a seat belt and released.
Douglas said both officers should be removed from the field and undergo “extensive cultural sensitivity training,” Douglas said.
“Incidents like these should be a clarion call for us to remember the struggle is not over,” Douglas said.