A Gilbert woman has filed a federal complaint against a police officer from her east Valley town, alleging that she suffers ongoing brain damage from his excessive use of force during her arrest.
Bodycam video of the arrest obtained by Phoenix New Times shows the 36-year-old woman, Samantha Glass, inebriated and resisting arrest after the officer told her she was being detained at an apartment complex. She was later convicted on related charges. But whether the officer's violent take-down of Glass could have been avoided is a question that will now play out in Arizona U.S. District Court.
According to the complaint field last week, Officer Christopher Robinson of the Town of Gilbert Police Department used "unnecessary and unreasonable force" in throwing Glass to the floor after asking about an alleged vehicle burglary.
Glass "panicked and attempted to free her arm," when Robinson tried to handcuff her, the complaint states. "The Officer, while still holding Plaintiff’s right arm, put his left hand on her back, pushed her down face-first, causing her face to violently slam onto concrete."
In March of last year, a police report of the incident relates, Glass drove to the apartment complex at 230 East Civic Center Drive, where her "ex-boyfriend" lives, because he had agreed to help repair a flat tire. The complaint, written by a local attorney Glass hired, states the ex-boyfriend is actually her ex-husband, and that she drove there to meet with him to discuss issues regarding their minor daughter.
Glass was drunk, by all accounts. The two met in the parking lot, and an argument ensued. Her ex-husband walked away, taking their daughter with him to a nearby park.
In Glass' version of the incident, documents show, she decided to sit in his car and wait for him, but it was locked. The alarm went off. She instead took the stairs to his apartment and sat down outside the door, intending to speak to him when he returned.
But other residents had seen her in the parking lot and believed she was trying to break into her ex-husband’s vehicle. They called 911, which brought Officer Robinson to her ex-husband’s apartment door.
In the video, Robinson sounds friendly at first. The two exchange “how are yous,” and then Robinson asks Glass what she was doing to her ex-husband’s truck. She seems confused.
“You heard me. People were watching you over by his truck,” Robinson says. “So what were you doing?”
Throughout the interaction, Glass struggles to provide relevant answers the questions the officer asks, and at this point says she was trying to change her car’s tire.
“No, what were you doing to his truck?” Officer Robinson says.
Glass furrows her brows. “Um ... nothing?” She looks up at him as if asking him a question.
“You can try better than that,” he says. “What were you doing to his truck?”
“What are you talking about?” she slurs, still looking up.
This goes on for a while, with Glass becoming increasingly frustrated and using profanity. “Why would I try to break into his truck when I have my own?” she says at one point.
When asked, she declines to give her last name. Robinson tells her he’s going to handcuff her for attempted vehicle burglary. She tries to call her ex-boyfriend so he can explain. “I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m sitting here, waiting for him to come home.”
“You were trying to break into his truck.”
She stands up. “You’re trying to play my words right now.”
“No, I’m telling you what people watched,” he says.
The ex-husband doesn’t answer the phone.
The officer tells her he’s going to put her in handcuffs. “No, you’re not,” she says, trying to walk away. He grabs her arm to restrain her. She resists, struggling to free herself from his grasp and calling out her ex-husband’s name.
The officer then pushes her down to the concrete, face first. Her head hits the floor with a sharp "click," and she begins to sob in pain. Blood begins to pool below her head as other officers arrive.
Glass suffered a mild traumatic brain injury from the incident. Her attorney, J. Scott Halverson, alleges she continues to experience cognitive deficits, like short-term memory problems, pain in her face, and severe headaches daily. Since the concussion a little over a year ago, she’s received ongoing treatment from a neurologist, who is assessing the long-term damage, Halverson said.
She was later charged with interfering with a police officer and extreme DUI. Gilbert online records show she was convicted in May 2018 of the crimes, both misdemeanors, and still owes nearly $3,000 to the court. She was never charged with vehicle burglary.
Halverson acknowledges in the complaint that it was obvious, both from her demeanor and manner of speech, that she was extremely impaired by alcohol consumption.
Officers in the video affirm that they recognized this as well. "Very 390,” Robinson says to the other officers as they come up the stairs where Glass lays. (In Maricopa County, 390 is the radio code for “drunk.”)
The complaint states that Robinson used unreasonable, unnecessary, and excessive force against Glass while detaining her.
“Police officers are responsible for taking care and not harming people,” Halverson said. “If a person is intoxicated, officers clearly know that their balance and their judgment is impaired. And instead of maybe walking behind her and following her down the stairs, he forces her down in that intoxicated state and forces her down on the concrete. That was excessive force.”
Halverson declined to have Glass speak directly to New Times.
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Gilbert police's use-of-force policy states that Gilbert officers may not resort to force unless other reasonable alternatives have been exhausted, or that doing so would be clearly ineffective under the circumstances. In determining the need for force, an officer must evaluate the situation in light of known circumstances, including the seriousness of the crime, the level of threat or resistance presented by the subject, and the danger to the community.
“Allowances must be made for the fact that officers must make split-second judgments about the amount of force necessary in a situation in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving,” it adds.
Glass is asking for compensation for her physical and psychological damages, including past and ongoing medical expenses.
The Gilbert Police Department asked for additional time to provide comment on the complaint, but did not respond by deadline for this article.