Dashboard Video Shows Traffic Stop That Cost Police Officer His Job

By: Steve Doyle, The Huntsville Times
By: Steve Doyle, The Huntsville Times

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- The city has released a copy of a dramatic dashboard video that shows a former Huntsville police officer, Phillip Lee Jr., jerking a female driver from her car and then throwing her to the ground.

The Dec. 13, 2011, incident in the Blossomwood neighborhood led to Lee's firing in late May. He is also accused of roughing up a handcuffed suspect last October.

Lee, who had been with the police force since 2008, contends his firing was not supported by the facts established by an impartial hearing officer who viewed all the evidence and heard from witnesses. The City Council is expected to decide Thursday whether to give Lee his job back.

The police department's evidence against Lee includes four police dashboard videos, as well as pictures of injuries suffered by the female driver, Edith Stewart.

The Times obtained copies of the videos from the city attorney's office, along with Hearing Officer Maureen K. Cooper's written findings.

Lee, assigned to the south precinct, was patrolling in Blossomwood just after 3 p.m. on Dec. 13 when he pulled Stewart over for speeding near the corner of Tennessee Street and Hermitage Avenue. Stewart's teenage daughter was also in the vehicle.

A video camera and microphone in Lee's police cruiser captured what happened next.

"Do you want a teenager?" Stewart asks the officer.

"Naw, but you need to slow your tail down coming through this neighborhood," he replies.

Stewart, who had opened her driver's side door, then yells, "We were fighting cause she ..."

Before she can finish, Lee says, "Get out of the damn car," and begins to yank Stewart out of the driver's seat.

The video shows Stewart hitting Lee in the chest. The officer then slams Stewart against the side of the car and slings her to the ground as two other officers approach.

"What the hell's wrong with you, man?" one of the officers appears to say.

As she is being led in handcuffs to Lee's patrol car, Stewart says, "I didn't do anything wrong, damn it."

On Feb. 9, the City Council agreed to pay $25,000 to settle a legal claim filed by Stewart and her husband, Michael Terrell Stewart.

Police Chief Lewis Morris determined that Lee's behavior during the traffic stop and an unrelated arrest on Oct. 24, 2011, violated numerous city personnel rules including conduct unbecoming an employee, incompetence, neglect or inefficiency in the performance of duties, and habitual or repetitive acts of misconduct.

Cooper, the hearing officer, noted in her written findings that pictures of Stewart show "minor abrasions on the right side of (her) face, elbow and knee. In addition, her right knee is bruised."

Stewart reported Lee to the police department's internal affairs division, which reviewed the dashboard video and interviewed Lee plus the other officers at the scene, Robert Wilcox and Larry Cook.

Lee told internal affairs that he perceived the traffic stop to be a domestic violence situation because the driver was yelling and there was a young girl crying in the front passenger's seat.

He told Sgt. Burnie Stedham that his intention was "merely to pull (Stewart) out of the car, removing her from the situation so he could try and calm her down."

After reviewing the evidence and testimony, Cooper concluded that Lee was "rude and discourteous to Ms. Stewart from the beginning of the traffic stop."

"He issued a command for her to get out of the car but reached down to pull her from the car before completing that command. Once she struck him ... he had no choice but to arrest her, turning a routine traffic stop into a much more serious situation," Cooper wrote.

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