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Motorist sues UHP, claims troopers beat him (video)

Published September 1, 2012 8:35 am

Court • Ogden man's lawsuit says four officers used excessive force.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

While four Utah Highway Patrol troopers were attempting to bring R. Todd May to the ground — punching him eight times and shocking him at least twice with a Taser — May went in and out of consciousness and thought that it might be the end.

"I actually thought, for a moment there, that they were going to kill me," May said during a Friday news conference.

The 48-year-old Ogden man is suing the four troopers in U.S. District Court, claiming they used excessive force and asking for at least $250,000 in damages.

On July 9, just after 10 p.m., May was pulled over for running a red light and following too close to the vehicle in front of him, which belonged to a female friend who was having car problems. The two were attempting to drive to his office, near 2550 Washington Blvd., in Ogden, where he worked security. The friend was planning to store her car there until the next morning.

But just after 10 p.m., a UHP trooper spotted May running a red light in his blue Ford Mustang near 23rd Street in Ogden. It wasn't until May and the woman were driving east on 26th Street that the trooper attempted to pull May over.

Because of construction equipment set up on the side of the road on 26th Street, May said he drove another block and a half before finally stopping at his work's parking lot."He didn't want to pull into a place that was too risky," said May's attorney, Robert Sykes.

A dashboard camera on Trooper Brandon Whitehead's vehicle shows the trooper asking May for his information, then leave May's vehicle to talk to the woman, whom May said he had known for a few days.

The trooper's report says the woman was a "known drug user" who had worked as informant with the Weber Morgan Strike Force. She told him that she didn't have any drugs on her, and when asked about May, the woman lowered her voice, making her response inaudible on the video.

Whitehead wrote in his report that the woman initially answered, "You know the answer to that." When he pushed her to answer again, the woman allegedly told the trooper that May had methamphetamine on him.

May did in fact have the drug with him, but he said it was a prescription medication, Desoxyn, used to help control his narcolepsy. He said he keeps a dosage in a small baggie in his shoe to keep the pill safe and did not carry the prescription bottle with him because it is an easy target for theft.

"I don't like leaving my medication around because of what it is," May said.

May told Whitehead during the traffic stop that he suffered from narcolepsy and that he took prescription methamphetamine to help control the symptoms.

After the woman told Whitehead that he thought May might have meth on him, Whitehead had probable cause to search May and his vehicle.

"Everything up to that point is legal," said May's attorney, Robert Sykes.

Whitehead then searched May, and when he asked May to take off his shoes, May can be seen on video slipping off his left shoe, then lifting his right foot, taking something out of his shoe and placing it in his mouth. May said he had swallowed the baggie filled with his medication.

"It was the wrong thing to do, I realize that now," May said Friday.

Whitehead immediately put his hand to May's jaw, telling him to spit out what he had put in his mouth. May is shown on video resisting, pushing the trooper away, before Whitehead ultimately put May into a headlock. Three other troopers then ran toward the two men, pushing May to the ground, yelling, "Spit it out. Spit it out."

Trooper Jared Patterson is seen on the video striking May once in the face with a closed fist while May was being taken to the ground and then doling out seven more closed-fist punches to May's side and back. Patterson wrote in his report that he was aiming for the left kidney in an attempt to subdue May, who he said was showing a "great amount of strength."

The troopers used a Taser on May at least twice during the approximately three-minute-long confrontation. Once May was placed in handcuffs, he can be seen on the video moaning, complaining about his stomach. Sykes said he was punched so hard in the kidney that he was trying not to vomit.

"You're fine," one trooper tells the man. "There's not even any blood."

The troopers called medical units to treat May, who was taken a local hospital, and for Whitehead, who received minor injuries in the struggle.

May was treated for a concussion, a black eye and several road rash-like burns on his arms and legs. Sykes said a blood test taken at the hospital showed May did not have alcohol in his system, nor any drug but a medicinal amount of methamphetamine.

May was booked into the Weber County jail, but no charges have been filed relating to the incident.

According to Utah court records, May — a former private investigator — has had several traffic violations but no history of drug-related charges.

Sykes called the arrest incident a violation of May's constitutional rights. While the troopers did have a right to use force against May, Sykes said the amount of force used was excessive.

"What they did wrong here, it was like a feeding frenzy to beat the daylights out of him," Sykes said.

Dwaine Baird, public information officer for UHP, said he could not comment about the case because the Weber County Attorney's Office is still screening the case. Baird said it is also protocol for the department to conduct an internal investigation after either a trooper or suspect is injured, and that investigation in ongoing.

jmiller@sltrib.com Twitter: @jm_miller