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Judge claims UCLA cops used excessive force when stopping him for seat-belt violation

Posted Nov 26, 2013 8:01 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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An African-American judge says campus police at the University of California at Los Angeles used excessive force after they pulled him over Saturday morning for failing to wear a seat belt.

Judge David Cunningham of Los Angeles Superior Court says in a complaint filed with police that he had just paid the parking attendant and was starting to buckle his belt when police pulled him over. The 60-year-old judge was driving a Mercedes and was dressed in workout attire after visiting L.A. Fitness. The Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press have stories on the complaint by Cunningham, a former president of the Los Angeles Police Commission.

Cunningham says he reached for his glove compartment when an officer asked for his registration and proof of his insurance, according to the Los Angeles Times. At that point, an officer yelled at him not to move, causing Cunningham to become irritated. He informed the officer that he needed to get the papers.

When he opened the glove compartment, Cunningham says, a bottle of his medication for high blood pressure rolled out, spurring the officer to ask if Cunningham was carrying drugs. Cunningham couldn’t find the documents he needed in his glove compartment, and says he told officers he needed to look in his trunk.

When he got out of his car, Cunningham says, an officer shoved him into the car, causing his feet to fly up, and arrested him for resisting. An officer accused Cunningham of kicking, the judge says.

A statement released by UCLA says Cunningham did not follow instructions to remain in his vehicle, “an escalating behavior that can place officers at risk.” Nor did he follow a demand to get back in the car, the statement says. UCLA police are reviewing video of the incident as part of an internal investigation.

Although Cunningham's complaint does not mention race, in a comment to the Los Angeles Times his attorney Carl Douglas asked, "Do you think this would have happened if he was a white judge?"

Updated at 1:06 p.m. to add a quote from Carl Douglas.

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