Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Cunningham III filed an excessive force complaint against UCLA Campus police recently, after they pulled him over and “roughed him up” over the Thanksgiving weekend during a routine traffic stop in Westwood, he said. Cunningham had just finished a workout at Westwood’s L.A. Fitness and after paying the parking attendant before leaving, he had been in the process of buckling his seatbelt when campus police pulled him over. When he asked “why,” they told him he was driving without a seatbelt.
As routine traffic stops go, Cunningham, who is 60 years old and also a former police commissioner, showed the officer his wallet containing his driver’s license and a badge identifying him as a judge. That seemed to draw ire from the cop, who tossed his wallet back to him and told him to show his license, proof of insurance and registration only, according to local news reports. He opened the glove compartment to retrieve the requested paper work when his prescription bottle of blood pressure pills rolled out, another thing he had to explain to the cops, he said.
To compound the problem, Cunningham’s lawyer Carl Douglas told reporters, he remembered that the information the officers wanted was most likely in the trunk of his car.
He told the officers he needed to get the paperwork out of his trunk and was subsequently placed under arrest.
"When I got 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.
According to Douglas, Cunningham was thrown so forcefully in the back of the police car that his feet “flew up in the air,” according to news reports.
“He lost his cool,” Douglas told local reporters.
“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…”
An African American officer arrived at the scene shortly after, demanding Cunningham’s immediate release. Cunningham has filed an excessive force complaint and said he is now more sympathetic to young African American males who find themselves in these situations.
“I began thinking about all the incidences involving Black men I had come to learn about when innocent encounters turned deadly: Devon Brown, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin…” he said.
Meanwhile, UCLA officials defended their actions in a recently released statement, saying, the officers only handcuffed Cunningham when he disobeyed their order to stay inside his car while they checked his driver's license and registration.
"Despite these instructions, the driver left the vehicle — an escalating behavior that can place officers at risk," they said.
"The driver stood in the roadway and refused instructions to get back in his car. As a result, the driver was temporarily handcuffed."