The Tampa Police Department said it has taken the appropriate measures to address Officer Scott Van Treese's treatment of Sonja Mimminger, first publicized in a FOX 13 report earlier today.
In an interview with FOX 13's Doug Smith, his supervisor, Major Diane Hobley-Burney said, "My thoughts were that my officer, and I say 'my' because I am his major, had misjudgment when he acted in taking the defendant out of the vehicle."
"It looks bad," said FOX 13's Doug Smith.
"I agree," she responded.
"We discovered that, as a department, we can better ourselves as well because we found that we provided training of how to get the individual that's resisting, how to handcuff, how to put them in a car, how to transport. But what we found, that we did not fully explain what to do to get them out and so that is what we're taking care of right now."
As a result, Officer Van Treese received a written reprimand, which is more severe than a verbal reprimand, but just short of a suspension.
"And we did that simply because we felt that, as a department, we could've done things a little better in terms of our training and that's what we're taking care of, to assure that our officers are fully trained so that this situation will not ever reoccur," Hobley-Burney explained.
"Do you think this woman was treated any differently because she was homeless?" asked Smith.
"I don't think so," she said.
"Everyone's treated the same?" Doug asked.
"That's how it is," she responded.
When asked about the department's prior policy, she stated, "The policy dictates first of all that all of our prisoners should be treated with respect."
Smith asked, "Surely it wasn't written in such a way that it would allow an officer to drag somebody off to jail?"
"It's not allowing," she replied. "No policy, I would think, no department policy would allow such a thing. In our policy, as I said, it gives the procedure as well as our training of when you have a defendant that is resisting, of all of the procedures of what to do, how to get them in a manner that we can safely transport them. He did that. He had the person in the vehicle as he should have. All that was done within our procedures. The problem became once we arrived at booking, that's where there was a little gray area with our policies, which we are fixing."
She explained that, "With Officer Van Treese, he thought independently that he could handle it and what the best response for him would have been to call for assistance."
The Tampa Police Department has now made a major change in their policy that would require two officers to handle a passively resistant arrest.
However, she also defended the officer, saying, "His mannerism was not of malice, he did not do any of that. His position was that he was just trying to finish his mission so that he could go back in service and unfortunately he used bad judgment in the process of doing that."
In addition, she denied Mimminger's allegations that she could not get up and walk, saying, "I concluded that it was not a misunderstanding, that it was deliberate. She knew exactly what she was doing at the time when they had to use additional restraints to get her into the car. If she did not have the strength I would think that her legs would've fallen, her legs remained up in the air. Once she was inside, because I continued the video and watched what happened when she was inside the booking area, I watched her get up and walk out with the paramedics that came."
The jail medical staff refused to book Mimminger into the jail, citing her medical condition. She was taken to the hospital instead.
"Is there really a need to drag a suspect through the sallyport and into the jail?" asked Doug Smith.
"That's what we're fixing," said Major Hobley-Burney.
She added that the Tampa Police Department cares about Mimminger's future, saying, "What I would love to do is to provide resources for her. We would love for her to be successful in life and that's one of my goals is that if she's willing to accept it, we're willing to offer it. I just want to see that she gets help."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida also watched the video and released this statement:
"It is always extremely troubling whenever police abuse their power or compromise an individual's civil rights and human dignity. Even as more information is coming to light, questions remain about the way Tampa police handled this case and whether the officers involved followed the appropriate procedures.
"We are pleased that the department took action to reprimand the officer involved and has changed its policy, but that is only the first step: the real test of whether the police are protecting the community they serve is how they follow the law and respect the rights of the people they interact with. The ACLU will be watching to ensure that the changed policy means that what happened to Sonja Mimminger never happens in the city of Tampa again."
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