Exclusive Video: How Baggin' a Bad Guy Cost Lauderdale Cop His Job
John Wezkiewicz had been a Fort Lauderdale police reserve officer for more than 20 years when, in the early-morning hours of November 1, 2009, he went a little too far in restraining an unruly suspect.
After the jump, we'll look at the video of Wezkiewicz's encounter with Gerald Feldhaus. We'll compare the footage with Wezkiewicz's account of the incident, as well as the findings of Internal Affairs investigators.
The incident started around 1:15 a.m., when Michael Freeley was summoned to the nightclub YOLO based on a complaint from the manager that a drunken man, Gerald Feldhaus, would not leave the property. Freeley didn't have much luck persuading Feldhaus, who "took a fighting stance and stated fuck you several times," to leave, according to Freeley's report.
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Despite what Feldhaus claimed was military training, he lost the wrestling match to follow.
The video above begins a few minutes after that arrest, as Feldhaus arrived at the department's booking office. You can see Feldhaus looking groggy and wearing a blue shirt that appears to have been torn in the back and to have had its collar stretched out, presumably in that tussle with Freeley.
That's Wezkiewicz behind the computer terminal. Despite the lack of audio, it appears that Feldhaus was being belligerent -- or at least uncooperative. Another reserve officer at the scene, David McGrath, reported: "I could hear Feldhaus uttering very loud statements toward Officer Wezkiewicz, calling the officer a 'homo' and asking questions of a sexual nature."
McGrath's report says that Feldhaus refused to stand still for a mug shot, as the video attests. That's McGrath who finally has to stand next to Feldhaus, who reported that Feldhaus asked Wezkiewicz, "Is this your bitch boy? You gonna kick my ass 'cause I'm fucking with your bitch?"
As McGrath grabbed Feldhaus to haul him out, Wezkiewicz was pulled into the scrum, though it's not clear whether that's because Feldhaus grabbed him, which Wezkiewicz claimed in the supplemental report he filed. In any case, Internal Affairs investigators did not find fault with Wezkiewicz's conduct in restraining Feldhaus, at least up to that point.
But in instances in which a suspect resists arrest, police officers are required to submit a report summarizing the incident on the same day. Internal Affairs investigators found that in this case, Wezkiewicz did not file his report until 20 days after the incident -- and only then based on a request by a superior.
That incident report was very brief and conspicuously lacking in details. Wezkiewicz did not explain his reasons for placing a paper bag over Feldhaus' head, which occurred at approximately 1:15:18 a.m., using the time stamp on the police video. Rather, Wezkiewicz reported only that Feldhaus "continued to fight, struggle, swear and spit at officers."
Of course, in the video it's clear that when Wezkiewicz went for the bag, Feldhaus was already on the ground, handcuffed, which would seem to make it hard for him to spit with much force or accuracy. Interviews with other cops at the scene suggest that Feldhaus may not have been spitting on purpose so much as foaming at the mouth, based on his combination of drunkenness and rage.
But even if Feldhaus had been intentionally spitting, Internal Affairs pointed out that there are "protective hoods" for such a scenario. "When used properly these hoods do not obstruct an individual's vision or ability to breathe," says the Internal Affairs report. "And the use of this device could not be falsely perceived as an attempt to humiliate an individual."
Internal Affairs referred the case to the Broward State Attorney's Office, which decided not to file criminal charges against Wezkiewicz for battery.
Rather, Wezkiewicz was found to have violated department policy for not having documented his response to Feldhaus' resistance on the same day. And Internal Affairs ruled that Wezkiewicz's use of a paper bag violated a policy against conduct that is "disruptive to the good order of the police department."
The Wezkiewicz case appears to be another example of FLPD taking a hard line against misconduct by its own officers. Last week, the department moved to terminate officer Rick Burn following an investigation that showed Burn had falsified time cards. In June, officer Jeff Overcash resigned
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