4 UHP troopers 'savagely' beat Ogden man, attorney says

Published: Friday, Aug. 31 2012 6:52 p.m. MDT

Ronny Todd May talks about the head injuries he sustained during what he believes was excessive force used by Utah Highway Patrol troopers during a traffic stop in Ogden, at his attorney's office in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 31, 2012. He has filed a civil rights lawsuit.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Ronny Todd May said he was trying to help a woman he had just met who was having car trouble.

But after he was pulled over for running a red light, four Utah Highway Patrol troopers "savagely" beat him and deployed a Taser in an effort to get him to spit out something they saw him swallow, his attorney said.

"What they did wrong here — it was like a feeding frenzy to beat the daylights out of him," attorney Bob Sykes said Friday. "It's excessive force. ... It was a significant violation to Todd May's constitutional rights to beat him severely to get him to spit something out."

May said he and the woman were driving to his private investigator office in Ogden when he was pulled over by UHP trooper Brandon Whitehead for allegedly running a red light and following the woman at "an extremely unsafe distance." Dash cam video shows that May took a few extra turns after the officer initiated his lights before stopping the car at his office parking lot.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, May claims he did that to avoid construction and the busy roads. He also accuses four UHP troopers of using excessive force during the traffice stop: Whitehead, Jared Patterson, Joshua Porter and E. Prescott. As many as five unnamed individuals are also named in the complaint.

After May and the woman, identified under the alias Tracy Smith in court documents, stopped their cars, Whitehead wrote in his report that Smith told them that May had methamphetamine.

"Arguably, the stop is legal," Sykes said. "We don't believe that was said (by Smith), but assuming it was, it gives officers probable cause to search."

May said he told officers that he had prescription methamphetamine. Sykes explained the prescription was for Desoxyn, a methamphetamine hydrochloride tablet used by May to treat narcolepsy.

Using Smith's information, the officers began to search May and asked him to remove his shoes. He removed one, then the other before grabbing something from his shoe and placing it in his mouth.

The situation escalated as officers repeatedly told May to spit it out. According to the lawsuit, May was placed in a chokehold before being punched in the face and laid face down on the ground while as many as four officers took part in attempts to restrain him.

The video shows one officer repeatedly hitting the man in the back amid commands to "stop resisting." Sykes insists May was not resisting arrest. Whitehead wrote in his report that May "continued to resist."

"I was concerned of the situation to such a degree that I radioed three separate times for additional officers to assist controlling the situation," Whitehead wrote. "During the ground fight, May had such a physical stamina and strength I was concerned and aware of the distinct likelihood he was in an excited delirium state."

One officer deployed a Taser. Sykes said the Taser was placed on May's skin multiple times. He showed photos of May with a swollen, black eye. He said his client's head was forced to the pavement with such force that he sustained a concussion. His gutteral screams and groans can clearly be heard on the video.

"There's no excuse for the beating ... a beating so severe for something so mild," Sykes said, adding that there is a difference between reasonable force and excessive force. "You can't beat someone mercilessly to spit something out, even if it's evidence."

May said he routinely keeps his prescription medication in a baggy in his shoe, though he usually removes it from the bag before swallowing it. Whitehead said the bag contained a "loose granular white substance." May said the tablet may have been crushed in his shoe.

"I don't like to leave my medicine around because of what it is. I keep it in the safest place I can," May said.

He said he didn't spit out the baggy because he had already swallowed it.

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