Officers busted car windows, broke man’s elbow in arrest for traffic violation. CMPD determined it wasn’t excessive force.

Updated: Sep. 22, 2020 at 5:19 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Three officers with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department were disciplined after a man was stopped for traffic violations, had his front windows busted out and his elbow fractured while being arrested.

The incident happened in December when three CMPD officers driving in an unmarked car stopped Anthony Caldwell driving a white Mercedes sedan.

Caldwell, his girlfriend and brother were driving in the area of Billy Graham Parkway and Tryon Street when he was stopped.

Video of the incident shows the car full of officers got behind Caldwell, activated their blue lights and followed Caldwell at a low speed into the parking lot of a nearby hotel. A total of 45 seconds elapse between the time the lights first come on and the time Caldwell stops.

WBTV has been working since late February to get video and other details of the incident. A judge ordered release of the video in early September—months after a reporter from the station filed a petition for it to be released—and CMPD provided the video to the reporter last Wednesday, as required by the judge’s order.

Once Caldwell pulls into a parking spot at the hotel, the video shows, the three officers jumped out of their vehicle and surrounded Caldwell’s car with their guns drawn.

They demanded Caldwell and the passengers to get out of the car and tried to open the car’s doors.

Caldwell cracked his window and asked why he was being stopped. The officers don’t answer.

Instead, the video shows, one officer begins beating the driver-side window with a baton. Eventually, a second officer begins beating the passenger side window.

**WARNING: Video contains graphic language.**

The officer beating the driver-side window continued shouting and using profanity as he busted out the window glass.

Ultimately, the windows of both front doors shattered and all three passengers were taken out of the car.

Caldwell was tackled to the ground with at least a half-dozen officers on top of him. He was handcuffed and put in a patrol car, where an officer slammed his foot in the door.

At one point, the video shows, Caldwell asked to speak with a supervisor but the sergeant on scene refused to speak with him.

Caldwell was charged with resisting an officer and traffic-related offenses, all of which are misdemeanors.

After Caldwell was released from jail on the night of his arrest, he went to the hospital where doctors determined his elbow was fractured.

Despite that, CMPD has continued to defend the force used in Caldwell’s arrest.

Caldwell filed a complaint with CMPD regarding his stop.

An Independent Chain of Command Review Board reviewed Caldwell’s complaint and determined the officer who busted Caldwell’s driver-side window and shouted profanities, Officer J. Rubino, used conduct unbecoming of an officer.

As a result of the board’s findings, Rubino was suspended for 80 hours without pay, making him ineligible for promotion for a period of two years, and was reassigned from his specialty unit, a CMPD spokesman said in a statement.

The board also determined, however, that neither Rubino nor any other officers on the scene that day used excessive force in busting Caldwell’s windows or arresting him in such a way that his elbow was fractured.

“The soft-empty hand control techniques the arresting officer employed to respond to Caldwell’s level of resistance were consistent with departmental training and policy,” a CMPD spokesman said in a statement in response to this story.

The statement said two other officers were disciplined for actions in Caldwell’s arrest in addition to Rubino.

One officer was disciplined for slamming Caldwell’s foot in the door of a patrol car and not reporting it. That officer, who was not identified by CMPD, received a 24-hour, unpaid suspension.

A sergeant on the scene, who was also not named, was given a written reprimand for refusing to speak with Caldwell after he requested a supervisor.

A CMPD spokesman refused to answer questions for this story.

Bo Caudill, a Matthews attorney who regularly represents clients who believe they have been the victim of excessive police force but is not connected to this case, reviewed the video for WBTV.

“The first thing I do is think back to try and remember the last time a police officer pointed a gun at me for a minor traffic violation and I can’t recall one,” Caudill said of the officers' actions at the start of the stop.

“There’s nothing appropriate about police officers immediately escalating a situation that could have been handled in a much more peaceful way,” he said.

Caudill said that there is nothing in the video to justify officers immediately drawing their weapons; officers would need a reason to fear an imminent deadly threat.

“If an officer tells you that you need to step out of the car, open the door and step out of the car then you should carefully and calmly comply with that request,” Caudill said. “The problem here is that the officers put this gentlemen in a situation where he was afraid for his life. He had people pointing firearms at him and he did not know why. And, so, had the incident started on a different foot it would have ended on a different foot.”

At no point in the video do officers tell Caldwell why he was stopped or why he was being arrested.

“Nobody said anything,” Caldwell told WBTV. “Nobody talked to me, there’s nothing to talk about when you’ve got that gun in my face.”

Caldwell said he filed a complaint and called WBTV because he felt officers used excessive force.

“That situation was blown all the way out of proportion. That situation was escalated all the way to a life or death situation,” he said.

WBTV requested a copy of the Use of Force report from Caldwell’s arrest more than a week ago. The report should outline the force used in the incident in the officers' own words and provide a justification.

To date, an attorney for CMPD has not responded to multiple requests for the report.

On Friday, Mayor Vi Lyles said she supported the reports being made public under a law that allows their release with consent of the city council.

Copyright 2020 WBTV. All rights reserved.