West Covina police released dashcam video Wednesday of a traffic stop in which a woman recorded an officer trying to take her cellphone away and accused him of improper conduct.
Eileen Aquino said she was stunned by the officer's actions, which included cursing at her, and she is now drawing attention to the video in attempt to seek "justice."
The incident occurred on the morning of April 12 along Meadow Road near Garvey Avenue when Aquino and her husband, Chris Moreno, were driving a vehicle without license plates from an auto glass and vehicle sales business they own in West Covina, she told KTLA.
They were stopped by a West Covina Police Department patrol car and provided proper documentation, Aquino said. But the officers began taking a different approach after they ran her husband’s ID, finding he was on probation for a gun violation, she added.
The Police Department said in a statement released Wednesday evening that Moreno's prior convictions also include battery on a police officer, arson and possession of a loaded firearm as a convicted felon.
The officers ordered her and Moreno to get out of the vehicle because they wanted to search it due to Moreno's record.
Aquino said she and Moreno asked for a higher-ranking officer to be present during the search, but the officers denied their request. They were complying when her husband was cuffed and was taken to the side of the car, she said.
She began recording while she was still in the vehicle and an officer approached her side of the car, soon telling her to put the phone down. She refused.
“I said 'No, I'm going to have my phone. I am going to cooperate fully, but I’m going to continue to have my phone and record, for my protection, my rights,'" Aquino told KTLA. "He didn't like that at all."
In the video, after she tells him her mother works for the Sheriff's Department, the officer then curses at her, saying he doesn’t care who her mother works for.
"I do not care. I do not want you to have that phone in your hand," the officer says, indicating she could use it as a weapon.
During the video, she tells him she needs to record the encounter "because you guys have made a bad name for yourselves."
Aquino posted the 1 1/2-minute video on Facebook Tuesday night, and it had received about 75,000 views by Wednesday afternoon but later appeared to have been removed.
KTLA legal analyst Alison Triessl said Aquino was well within her rights to record the encounter, especially since the officer's conduct escalated the situation.
“She had an absolute right to record this officer because it was in the performance of his official duties,” Triessl said. “His vulgar words to her were clearly in appropriate, and he could have handled this in a way that could have diffused what became a very hostile and sort of dangerous situation.”
But the officer who pulled the couple over — who has not been identified — asked Aquino to put down her phone after it began to hinder his investigation, according to West Covina Police Lt. Travis Tibbetts.
“If the conduct of a person that’s detained is resisting or obstructing or delaying a peace officer in the course of their investigation, it becomes criminal; it’s a violation of the penal code,” he told KTLA.
However, Tibbetts also said the incident could possibly lead to additional training for West Covina officers.
While the couple also accuses police of physical misconduct while detaining them, police say the dashcam video disproves this.
Aquino told KTLA that the officer touched her in her "pelvic area," though he might not have meant to. She said an acrylic nail was pulled off during the incident and she was left with bruises on her wrists. She said she was crying because the officer was hurting her.
“My dress came up to my back leaving my bottom completely exposed,” Aquino wrote in her Facebook post, adding that she was handcuffed. “I repeatedly asked him to pull my dress down or let me pull my dress down and he refused.”
Moreno said he was punched, kicked and "breathing and eating dirt" while he was on the ground, but that the other officer didn't care because he was on probation. He said the officer kept telling him to "shut up." Moreno also said he has bruises on his ribs he said were a result of the encounter.
“This was the WORSE most Traumatizing experience of my life,” Aquino wrote. “People don't deserve to get treated like this.”
But while an officer does appear to have his knees in Moreno's back, no kicking or hitting is seen in the dashcam video released Wednesday.
“The version of events that she presented on social media certainly is contradicted by our dashcam video," Tibbetts said. "He was not mistreated.”
Aquino told KTLA that she and her husband were not cited for the license plate issue, but were cited for having an open container of marijuana. She said there was only marijuana residue in the container.
Aquino said she is from the area and is involved in her community. Her children go to school and play sports in the area and she and her husband have run their business for five years in West Covina, she said. The incident has left her "terrified," "frustrated" and "helpless," she said.
Aquino and Moreno both believe the officers were abusing their power and should be held accountable. They are talking to an attorney in hope of finding "justice."
"You don't go walking around mistreating people because you can't have your way," Aquino said.
KTLA's Erika Martin contributed to this report.