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Judge Files $10 Mil Claim Against UCLA Police for Seat Belt Incident

Judge David Cunningham, an African-American and former police commissioner, says: " I never realized what a profound effect such a negative encounter could have on someone until it happened to me."

KTLA screen shot of Judge David Cunningham.
KTLA screen shot of Judge David Cunningham.

Originally posted at 1:46 p.m. Feb. 3, 2014. Updated to include comments from UCLA officials.

An African-American family law judge filed a $10 million claim against UCLA campus police, alleging he was roughed up and handcuffed after being stopped for a seat belt violation, his attorney announced today.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Cunningham filed the claim Jan. 16, according to his lawyer, Carl Douglas. A claim is a precursor to a lawsuit.

The university today released a statement in response to the filing of the claim.

"UCLA police fully investigated Judge Cunningham's complaint, as required by law, but did not find sufficient evidence to sustain his allegations," according to the statement. "A letter was sent to the judge this morning notifying him of the outcome. We are distressed when anyone feels disrespected by our officers or anyone who represents UCLA. As in this case, feedback to UCLA Police provides them the opportunity to review their actions, tailor future trainings and improve performance to reflect the department's commitment to excellence."

According to a statement released by Douglas, the judge was driving out of a parking structure after a workout at a Westwood fitness center on Nov. 23 when he unhooked his seat belt briefly to get his wallet and pay the parking fee.

As the judge turned on to Gayley Avenue and began reinserting the seat belt, his car was stopped by UCLA police for allegedly driving without having the safety device fastened, according to Douglas.

Cunningham was handcuffed and placed into the back seat of the officers' patrol car, causing him “serious injury and damages to his mind, body and reputation,” according to Douglas.

The patrol car's video camera showed Cunningham complained about his treatment and that one of the officers was annoyed with the judge for no reason, according to Douglas.

A short time later, a UCLA police sergeant arrived and ordered the judge's release, according to Douglas.

“If an African American judge can be accosted and then arrested by a hateful police officer for a seat belt violation on the streets of Westwood, then none of us are safe,'' Douglas said.

The statement by Douglas' office also included a comment by the 58-year-old Cunningham, who is assigned to the downtown County Courthouse.

“I am shaken and bruised by this ordeal,” Cunningham said. “I fear that I have suffered nerve damage in my wrists. I am still shaken by this ordeal. Although I am a former Police Commission president, I never realized what a profound effect such a negative encounter could have on someone until it happened to me.”

--City News Service

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