Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Officers’ videos indicate suspect took tumble evading police
A traffic stop in which a suspect went to the ground and violently hit his head on the pavement has sparked the allegation of police misconduct, while recently released police videos document the traffic stop that was initiated for a seatbelt violation and resulted in drug and other charges against the driver.
On Aug. 22, Roswell Police Department officer Randy Rodriquez was patrolling the area of West Walnut Street and South Missouri Avenue around 1:53 p.m. After spotting a vehicle traveling west on Walnut, Rodriquez said he noticed a woman sitting in the vehicle’s passenger seat that was not wearing her seatbelt.
Rodriquez said he knew that the driver, 38-year-old Rhett Arnett, had a suspended driver’s license.
According to a criminal complaint written by Rodriquez, he then turned on his vehicle’s emergency lights and sirens. He said the vehicle did not immediately pull over, but eventually stopped on the corner of North Washington Avenue and West Walnut Street.
Rodriquez also stated in the criminal complaint that he could see Arnett reaching for items within his vehicle and placing them near the center console.
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As Rodriquez approached the passenger side of the vehicle, he said both vehicle occupants were moving items around. Arnett had also placed an item inside his waistband near his belt buckle area, Rodriquez wrote.
After running through the driver’s information, Rodriquez said Arnett was “very nervous and sweaty.” Another RPD officer, Tracy Oldani, arrived at the scene to provide assistance.
As Arnett was instructed to step out of the vehicle, Rodriquez said he saw Arnett adjusting his pants where he placed the item as he got out.
The officer said he then performed a pat search on Arnett, stating in the complaint that Arnett has been armed with a firearm in the past. Rodriquez noted that Arnett was leaning forward in an odd position – as if he was trying to hide something in the center of his waist.
“(I) then patted the waist area of Mr. Arnett where he was leaning over in an awkward position and felt a slight bulge in his waistband,” Arnett wrote. “As (I) felt the bulge in Mr. Arnett’s waistband, Mr. Arnett attempted to turn away to move from my hand. (I) did not feel comfortable with the way Mr. Arnett was acting, and (I) placed him in handcuffs at this time.”
Rodriquez told Arnett in one of the police body camera videos obtained by the Daily Record this week, “OK, you’re fidgeting bro. Put your hands behind your back” as he began to cuff Arnett. Arnett complied, with a cigarette hanging from his mouth.
After walking Arnett to the front of his police vehicle, Rodriquez wrote he observed Arnett trying to reach to the center of his waist again. This time, the officer said he lifted up Arnett’s shirt and found a clear plastic bag sticking out of his underwear.
“(I) then attempted to grab the bag and Mr. Arnett attempted to turn and pull away from me,” Rodriquez wrote. “As (I) attempted to gain control of Mr. Arnett’s arm, he continued to pull away.”
It was then as Arnett tried to step away where he ended up hitting the ground with a force great enough to cause immediate bleeding onto the pavement. Rodriquez said Arnett was still attempting to grab the clear bag that was hidden in his underwear.
Police said officers were able to gain control of Arnett and were eventually able to retrieve the plastic bag.
The passenger not wearing a seatbelt, Holly Lovell, stood aside throughout the traffic stop. Her voice carried the sense of astonishment and concern about what had occurred.
In an email submitted to the Daily Record, Lovell said Arnett was cooperative with police, yet ended up being shoved, handcuffed and – ultimately – sustained “significant head injuries.”
“I was the passenger in the vehicle and I believe we experienced a situation involving police misconduct/brutality,” Lovell said in an Aug. 27 email to the Daily Record.
When a New Mexico State Police Officer arrived, officer Oldani asked the state police officer if he had any gauze bandages to help treat Arnett’s wound, with Oldani stating: “Randy dumped him pretty good.”
The state police officer can be heard in one video saying he did not have any supplies that could help.
A small stream of blood quickly accumulated under Arnett’s head as he cried out in pain, multiple police videos show.
When officer Oldani came to Rodriquez’s side, he was sitting next to Arnett, who was still bleeding.
“I thought he was trying to reach for a gun,” Rodriguez said.
Lovell requested that the Daily Record obtain police footage of the traffic stop.
In two of the six police body camera videos obtained by the newspaper this week, the events leading up to and including Arnett’s violent fall to the pavement can be seen, with Lovell offering a handful of napkins to help stop the bleeding.
In the end, Arnett was charged for unlawful use of license; resisting, evading, or obstructing an officer; and two counts of possession of prohibited controlled substances.
Police said inside the plastic bag were two substances — one a “white in color crystal-like substance that had the consistency of methamphetamines” and the other, a “black in color substance that had the consistency of heroin.”
Police said both substances later tested positive by using a drug abuse kit.
Emergency Medical Services arrived and placed bandages on Arnett’s head. He was later put onto a stretcher and, according to officer Rodriquez, he advised officers that he was going to sue and they “needed to watch (their) backs.”
The RPD said in a statement Tuesday that the department does not comment on allegations regarding police use of force related to specific incidents.
Lovell said she believes the police videos show that proper procedures were not followed by police, and resulted in unnecessary injuries to Arnett.
“It was definitely police misconduct, that they didn’t follow the proper procedures for pullover for a seatbelt violation,” Lovell said Thursday. “I don’t think he ever had a reason to be cuffed and pulled out of the car. He wasn’t fidgeting, he was being very cooperative.”
Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Editor Jeff Tucker contributed to this report.