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By Elisha Fieldstadt
An Arizona man was repeatedly tased by officers at a traffic stop as his children and wife screamed in horror from a car’s back seat, newly-released police body camera video shows.
Johnny Wheatcroft and his wife, Anya Chapman, are suing the city of Glendale, Arizona, and the three officers involved in the July 2017 incident.
The couple was in a car driven by their friend when they were approached by officers who “observed a traffic violation,” according to information recently released by the Glendale Police Department.
Police allege that Wheatcroft wouldn’t identify himself, and that officers observed him reaching his hand into a backpack and the area between the seat and the center console after he was stopped.
But Wheatcroft, 37, and Chapman claim he “did not commit a crime and there was no probable cause to suspect him of any illegal activity,” according to the lawsuit filed in July 2018 in U.S. District Court in Arizona.
Wheatcroft refused to hand over identification when asked and inquired about what he had done wrong, according to the suit and the police body-camera video released Monday by the couple’s lawyer.
At that point, the confrontation between him and the officers quickly escalated.
One of the officers “reached inside the vehicle and opened the passenger door of the vehicle and placed a taser between Plaintiff Johnny Wheatcroft’s neck and right shoulder and asked if he was going to fight,” according to the suit and video.
Wheatcroft said he wouldn’t fight, but the officer grabbed his arm, twisting it backward and positioning a taser on Wheatcroft’s shoulder blade.
The first officer then removed his taser, but a second officer replaced it with his own and tased Wheatcroft “several times in the back as the officers continued to attempt to pull him out of the vehicle,” according to the suit and video.
“Wheatcroft was still tangled and restrained in his seatbelt and his arm was contorted behind his back” by the first officer, according to the suit and video.
Meanwhile, the couple’s children, who are 11 and 6 years old, can be heard from the back seat crying pleading with the officers to stop.
“Daddy, are you OK?” one child can be heard asking.
The officers pulled Wheatcroft out of the car, at which point the first officer backed up and “activated his taser in dart-mode,” toward Wheatcroft’s chest, according to the suit and video.
A third officer arrived at the scene and also started tasing Wheatcroft, the suit said.
The officers then tried to drag a handcuffed Wheatcroft away from the vehicle, although he was still tangled in his seatbelt, which he tried to tell them. One of the children eventually freed his father from the seatbelt, the suit says.
Once the officers managed to pull Wheatcroft away from the car, the first officer pulled down his shorts and “tased his testicles and perineum, which was significantly and excruciatingly painful,” the suit says.
Officers started to “forcibly remove” the prongs of the taser from Wheatcroft’s body as he “screamed in agony,” the suit says. Then, the first officer put his taser on Wheatcroft’s penis and said, “Keep fighting and you’re going to get it again.”
Another officer put a handgun against Wheatcroft’s head, the suit says.
As Wheatcroft writhed in pain and tried to communicate that he was having trouble breathing, the first officer told him to “stop being a big baby,” according to the video.
Wheatcroft was arrested on charges of resisting arrest and aggravated assault and spent months in jail before the charges were dismissed “given the lack of any basis to support the claims,” the suit says.
Chapman was charged with aggravated assault and pleaded guilty. According to Glendale police, at some point during the incident, she “swung a bag filled with bottled drinks” at one of the officers “rendering him unconscious.”
Video released by police appeared to show an officer get knocked out from the back passenger side of the car.
Police said following the incident that “a usable quantity of methamphetamine was found within the vehicle.”
The three officers are identified in the suit as Matt Schneider, Mark Lindsey and Michael Fernandez.
“A review of the officers’ actions has been performed and discipline implemented regarding certain tactics used by one officer,” said a Glendale Police Department statement on Friday. The department did not immediately return a request seeking information about which officer was disciplined or how.
Wheatcroft was arrested on an unrelated burglary charge in 2018 and sentenced to five years in prison, according to Arizona Department of Corrections records.