Injured woman accuses Coldwater police of 'disgusting, thug-like conduct' in jail incident

COLDWATER, MICH. - A woman is suing several Coldwater, Mich. police officers after she says she was slammed to the ground and knocked unconscious while handcuffed in a secure entrance to the county jail, a bloody incident captured on camera.

Tiffany McNeil's federal lawsuit alleges that police used excessive force and then lied about what happened.

"It was absolutely egregious, disgusting, thug-like conduct," McNeil's attorney, Solomon Radner, said. "You don't expect that from police officers, and it shouldn't be tolerated."  

Coldwater City Manager Keith Baker said city officials are reviewing the lawsuit and the allegations it contains. He declined to comment beyond that.

McNeil, 31, was arrested July 24 at her home after her husband called police during an argument, according to the lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court. The lawsuit admits McNeil had been drinking alcohol.

Video recorded by a camera inside the secured entrance area of the Branch County Jail shows a police officer holding McNeil, who is standing and in handcuffs, with her face pressed against a wall. As McNeil yells at the officer, he appears to pull her from the wall and slam her, face-first, on the ground. Five other police officers are standing nearby, the video shows.  

"I told you to relax," the officer yells, with his knee now on McNeil's back as she lay motionless on the ground. 

When the officer rolls her over, a pool of blood is revealed under her head. McNeil's handcuffs were eventually removed, and another officer can be seen checking for her pulse. 

Radner, whose office provided the video to reporters, said McNeil was taken to a hospital. She received 17 stitches for a cut over her eye. She also suffered a concussion, he said. 

The lawsuit alleges that the officer and two others lied about what happened in their police reports. The reports say things about McNeil being "combative" and "actively resisting" arrest, and that she fell to the ground, according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit identifies the officer who is seen holding McNeil as Lewis Eastmead. Eastmead could not immediately be reached for comment.

Eastmead and about a dozen other officers and police department supervisors, including the officers who witnessed the incident, are listed among the defendants, with some identified by name and others listed as John Doe. McNeil is also suing the city of Coldwater. 

Along with the excessive force claim, the lawsuit alleges unreasonable seizure; abuse of process and malicious prosecution; that the other police officers failed to intervene "to prevent the violation of Ms. McNeil's constitutional rights," and that city failed to properly screen, train and supervise its police officers. It seeks at least $75,000 in damages. 

Radner said McNeil was charged with domestic violence and a felony count of resisting a police officer. When she pleaded no contest to domestic violence, he said, officials dropped the resisting charge. 

The lawsuit alleges McNeil was charged with the felony only to justify the officer's use of force and to pressure her into a plea bargain. 

Radner said McNeil has no memory of the incident at the jail. 

Staff writer Robert Allen contributed to this report. Contact staff writer Ann Zaniewski at 313-222-6594 or azaniewski@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @AnnZaniewski. 

© 2018 WZZM-TV


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