Despite Move Toward Transparency, Officials Refuse to Provide Proof of Officer’s Chokehold Training

On Thursday evening, the Culver City government released dashcam footage of a Feb 2017 arrest that is now the subject of a civil rights lawsuit filed against the Culver City Police Department (CCPD). The City sent out a YouTube link as part of an email press release entitled “City Releases Dashcam Video – Presents Opportunity for Community Conversation.”

For the City, the announcement also presented an opportunity to give an official version of events – no doubt aiming to spread their narrative in the court of public opinion as the excessive force lawsuit trudges through civil court.

The roughly 30-minute video corroborates some of the key claims presented in the suit, which was filed in March 2018 by LA County resident Terry Walton. But some of the suit’s contentions seem to be refuted by the video as well.

First, a CCPD officer can be clearly seen climbing Mr. Walton’s back in the course of applying a chokehold to his neck (16:30 mark of video). That’s consistent with the suit’s primary claim that officer James Gladden “mounted and used his full body weight to bring Mr. Walton to the ground” during the arrest.

But between the video and the lawsuit, a discrepancy appears to exist as to why Mr. Gladden attempts a chokehold in the first place. The lawsuit alleges violence broke out “[w]hen officers were unable to place handcuffs on Mr. Walton.” In the video, Mr. Walton appears to rip his arm away from the arresting officer the moment feels handcuffs touching his wrist (9:42 mark of video).

The officer uninvolved in the chokehold, named in the lawsuit as Michael Kutylo, is seen landing on Mr. Walton’s left side as the three fall to the ground, later landing a series of punches to Mr. Walton’s back while trying to restrain him – all consistent with the lawsuit’s version of events.

Dashcam screen capture showing Mr. Walton's height relative to the arresting officers.
Dashcam screen capture showing Mr. Walton’s height relative to the arresting officers. The medical report filed with the civil lawsuit lists Mr. Walton at 6’3″, 250 lbs. His lawyer and the CCPD say he is 7 feet tall.

But while the suit goes on to assert a third CCPD officer, Mr. Thomas Call, joined the fray to also punch Mr. Walton’s back, these alleged punches are not obvious in the video but appear to occur at the 18:37 mark.

Other minor discrepancies exist. For example, the police claim Mr. Walton to be 7 feet tall and 350 pounds, while the medical report issued during his emergency department visit lists him at 190.5 cm (6’3”) and 113.4 kg (250 lb). In the video, Mr. Walton appears to be at least a foot taller than the CCPD officers – certainly closer to 7 feet than 6’3”. Should further evidence come to light as to his height, I will correct my previous article that lists him at 6’3”.

The City admitted it published the footage in response to a public records request. I assume they’re referring to a request I sent in early April, since the email was sent out just minutes after they separately sent the footage to me.

After establishing the reason for releasing the tape, the City’s email lists some “important points that provide context for the events depicted in the video.” According to the CCPD, Mr. Walton told officers he was on probation for drug charges and that the officers were suspicious he was under the influence of narcotics, which is why he was asked to exit the vehicle.

The email also defends Mr. Gladden’s use of a carotid hold, a “maneuver [that] offers peace officers a method for controlling subjects who are resisting arrest” according to the email. The hold can be seriously harmful or fatal if misapplied.

Images showing Mr. Gladden and Mr. Walton
Images showing Mr. Gladden and Mr. Walton (top) interacting just before the arresting officers attempt to handcuff Mr. Walton. The bottom image shows Mr. Gladden well above the ground as he applies a chokehold to Mr. Walton seconds later.

For this reason, and because the civil lawsuit alleges a culture of poor training at the CCPD, I requested documentation that Mr. Gladden had been trained to properly execute a carotid hold. The City denied my request, claiming this documentation is privileged under a section of California law that stipulates “personnel, medical, or similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” are exempt from public records requests.

That denial is also backed up – at least according to the city – by a code that privileging “records, the disclosure of which is exempted or prohibited pursuant to federal or state law.” The city does not cite which federal or state law applies in this case. Finally, the city cites a California code that allows public agencies to reject records requests when “the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record.”

The city used these and other similar codes to deny my requests for this incident’s police report and for all documentation of carotid holds employed by the CCPD since 2014. According to the agency’s policy manual, all such instances of this hold should be documented.

There’s a lot more to learn about this case, and much of it should be obtainable without the Culver City government’s help. The civil suit’s discovery phase should provide an opportunity to access more of the CCPD’s records on this matter, as well as to see what evidence Mr. Walton plans to share to support his version of events.

Culver City, the CCPD, and the individual officers named in the lawsuit have until April 30 to respond in court.