A former Aurora police officer is suing the city in an attempt to get his job back, alleging that city employees unfairly painted him as a racist for ignoring cries for help from a woman in the back of his patrol car.
Levi Huffine filed a lawsuit in Arapahoe County District Court last week alleging the city “failed to provide a fair and impartial hearing” and improperly released information about the incident that influenced his appeal.
Vanessa Wilson, then the interim police chief, fired Huffine in February in connection to an August 2019 incident during which he ignored a woman’s cries for help after she fell face-down onto the floorboards in the backseat of Huffine’s police cruiser as he transported her to the municipal jail.
The woman could not get up by herself because both her hands and her ankles were restrained. The woman screamed for help — stating she thought she was going to die — for more than 20 minutes as Huffine drove. He did not check on her.
Huffine does not dispute the facts of the incident in his lawsuit but alleges he shouldn’t have been fired in the first place and that his appeal process was tainted by releases of information to the public.
Wilson, who became the department’s permanent chief in August, decided to fire Huffine even though the internal Chief’s Review Board recommended Huffine be suspended for 180 hours. At the time of the firing, she only released the officer’s name and would not provide details of what led to the discipline.
In July, a records technician released a summary of the case in response to a records request by The Denver Post. Wilson later said the release was accidental and shouldn’t have happened because the department’s policy is to withhold disciplinary records until any appeal is finished.
That release and testimony of Aurora officials during Huffine’s two-day appeals hearing before the Civil Service Commission created a bias against Huffine by insinuating he is racist, the lawsuit states. Huffine is white and the woman involved in the incident is Black.
“Despite the fact that there was no evidence of racially motivated bias in this case, or any racial component aside from the fact that the individuals were of different races, Plaintiff was impermissibly painted as a racist with no way to counter, biasing Plaintiff in the eyes of the Commission,” the lawsuit states. This prompted the Commission to uphold the termination based on factual inferences of racial motivation that were not in evidence in this case.”
The commission upheld Huffine’s firing on Oct. 6 and said the incident was “simply not acceptable.”
The inference that Huffine is racist is so stigmatizing that Huffine cannot get a job in law enforcement, the lawsuit states.
The city has not responded in court to the lawsuit, online court records show. Aurora spokesman Michael Bryant on Tuesday said the city is reviewing the lawsuit.
“The termination of Officer Huffine by Police Chief Vanessa Wilson was lawful and appropriate, and was upheld by the city’s Civil Service Commission, and we believe the district court will agree with the actions taken in this case,” Bryant said in an emailed statement.
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