Investigation Finds No Criminal Wrongdoing by Lake Wales Police Officers
Man Backpedals on Original Complaints of Police Brutality
Last updated 4/1/2021 at 9:56am
Lake Wales Police Chief Chris Velasquez released an investigative report Friday, March 26 that concluded there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by two officers during a Feb. 5 arrest.
The complaint involved a traffic stop of 37-year-old Christopher Cordero that escalated into charges of resisting arrest without violence, threat of death or serious bodily injury of a law enforcement officer and assault on a law enforcement officer. Cordero accused Officers Colt Black and Travis Worley of brutality, but backpedaled on his complaint when put under oath.
Polk Sheriff's Detective Ernest Fulcher with the Bureau of Criminal Investigations produced the 197-page report based upon his review of a home video that captured part of the incident, photographs showing no injuries and statements of Cordero, police officers, three witnesses to the arrest and a hospital emergency room doctor. The full report can be found here: https://www.lakewalesfl.gov/DocumentCenter/View/4724/Polk-County-Sheriffs-Office-Investigation-21-7464
"I was unable to find any witnesses, physical evidence, or video evidence to corroborate the allegations of physical violence made by Cordero," Fulcher wrote in his report.
The State Attorney's Office also contributed to the investigation, noting: "Upon reviewing the surveillance video provided to us by Cordero, it was learned Cordero's account of what transpired did not accurately depict what occurred on the surveillance video. Based on Cordero's statements conflicting with the video surveillance, this office took no further action in the claim of police brutality made by Cordero."
Cordero spread his complaints widely through You Tube videos and the news media, initially alleging the officers kicked and punched him and that Worley spit in his face and called him a "spic nigger." A Tampa ABC Action 9 News report detailing Cordero's claims logged more than 944,000 views in the past week. Chief Velasquez criticized the news media, calling the television report irresponsible for "rushing to judgment before the facts are known."
During the interview with PCSO detectives and an Assistant State Attorney, Cordero provided his account under oath of what happened during the traffic stop. He also made several admissions including that the officers did not knock his tooth out as he earlier claimed and that he was wrong for stopping so quickly and exiting his vehicle. He said he should have stayed in his car and the officer was just doing his job, was probably afraid that he had a weapon and that he would have done the same if he were in their shoes.
According to the report: "Cordero said the incident happened so fast that he was not even sure if the officers intentionally struck him in the head or face. Cordero explained that the officers might have accidently hit his head while trying to secure him. Cordero said he really could not see what they were doing because of his head position, and anything could feel like punches. Cordero said that maybe Officer Worley did not kick him like he said, because it was not hard, and maybe he was just trying to put his foot on him to restrain him. Cordero said 'I can't tell you they beat the crap out of me. I believe that they were doing their job and they were doing anything they could to get my hands behind my back.' "
After reviewing the home surveillance video, Black amended his original report and asked for the assault on a law officer charge to be dropped, saying Cordero did not get as close to him as he originally thought and his "perception was altered due to the high stress of the incident." Black resigned five days after the arrest and sought treatment for post traumatic stress disorder related to an April 2018 incident when he was brutally attacked by a suspect. All charges against Cordero ultimately were dropped by the State Attorney's Office.
Worley is on administrative duty, where he is expected to remain while other complaints against him are investigated by internal affairs.
"Although I am glad Mr. Cordero made statements during the interview that provided more context to what happened, and that he showed remorse about the incident, I am still disappointed by the dramatic difference between allegations made not under oath, and what he said under oath," Velasquez said in a prepared statement. "His comments caused a great amount of negative sentiment in the community about our department, and two of my officers were simply doing their job."
Velasquez thanked the community for support and promised to "always hold my officers accountable. We must maintain the trust and support of our community."