By Amy Silverman
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I wanted to see, face to face, what kind of punks attack and beat a wheelchair-bound paraplegic.
There were two of them, a hatchet-faced piece of meanness called Ted Roper and his 200-pound sidekick, the expressionless Richard Brown. Both men carry a badge for the Bullhead City Police Department.
I caught up with Roper and Brown in a large, anonymous federal courtroom that looked all the more cavernous because almost no one was watching the trial; instead of a jury, there was only a judge to listen to the re-creation of the chilling events.
After the two police officers stomped the cripple, they broke his femur, the largest bone in the human body. Although Steve West, 39, cannot control his legs because of a spinal injury, he nonetheless has the full range of feelings in those limbs.
According to the doctors, Steve West's shattered leg felt to him precisely as it would feel to you.
Rather than take their victim to a hospital, the two cops arrested West, tossed him into the back of a squad car, drove to jail and dumped him onto the floor of a cell. Jagged bone fragments of his leg punctured muscle tissue, nerve endings and blood vessels. In fact, when he was finally treated for his injuries, the doctors were forced to give West three units of blood because of all the internal bleeding. But that would come much later. For hours the paraplegic groveled on the floor of a holding cell. His pants had twisted off of his emaciated hips during the struggle, but the traumatized leg was so swollen West was unable to pull his Levi's up to cover himself. He remained naked throughout his confinement as people of both sexes walked past.
Though I'd never talked to officers Roper or Brown or their prisoner, West, I was absolutely certain that I knew, in advance, one detail of the case: The police would claim that the paraplegic went for a gun.
Even Bullhead City cops do not cold-cock cripples without some story that purports to explain such remarkable behavior.
Sure enough, the police said Steve West intended to shoot them. Actually, they claim he went for two guns.
Both Roper and Brown swore under oath that the wheelchair-bound West beat the officers with his fists, tried to take Roper's gun out of its holster and then reached for a second gun inside his house trailer.
As you might also expect, Steve West denied these allegations.
And the physical evidence supports the paraplegic's account.
It simply could not have happened the way the cops claim; what's more, there was no gun. Steve West doesn't own one.
The witnesses also corroborate West.
Their testimony is particularly telling because, all things considered, they must be viewed as, if not outright hostile to Steve West, at least pro-law enforcement. These witnesses include the woman whose complaint brought the cops to West's trailer in the first place, an Eagle Scout who was a citizen ride-along in the police car and the Bullhead City insurance investigator whose company would be liable for damages if the officers were judged guilty of brutality.
@body:On June 29, 1989, Anna Marie Wilson invited her ex-boyfriend, Dan "Animal" Whiteside, to join her for cocktails at Gabe and Angel's saloon. She also invited Animal's buddy, Steve West, to join them, which he did gladly since the drinks were on her. However, when the couple began bickering, West left the bar and wheeled back to his nearby trailer. Sometime later Anna and her ex also departed, taking their escalating argument into the tavern's parking lot where Animal assaulted his former girlfriend. She sustained a concussion.
When Wilson told the cops who beat her up, she also suggested that they might find Animal at Steve West's trailer.
Did she have any particular reason to suppose Animal was in the trailer?
"I don't believe she ever went into any actual detail as to how she knew exactly where he was," said Officer Brown.
Which would explain why the cops arrived at West's trailer without a search warrant. Still, if the police were not legally prepared, they were, in any case, highly motivated. The officers knew something that Wilson did not.
Animal was a fugitive with an outstanding felony drug warrant, a significant complaint in a community the size of Bullhead City. Police careers advance on just such collars. What good luck that Anna Marie Wilson had delivered up to them the lowlife Dan "Animal" Whiteside.
Officers Roper and Brown hightailed it over to West's trailer with the lady in tow. The same inexplicable fate that had dropped the young woman onto their laps also provided an Eagle Scout with a keen interest in law enforcement as a citizen observer in one of the two squad cars.
With Anna Marie Wilson and scout Robert Hunter watching, the two patrol officers approached the trailer.
Both officers testified that the paraplegic West burst out of the trailer, the screen door shutting behind him. In a raging, incomprehensible frenzy, the cripple attacked.
Officer Roper said West lifted up one of his legs, put it on a railing and pinned Roper against the back of the porch. West then struck patrolman Roper repeatedly with his fists and finally tried to pull the cop's revolver out of his holster.