Tampa police body camera footage adds new details of innocent Black woman’s violent arrest

The woman was detained when police pulled her fiance over in July 2021.

click to enlarge A screenshot from TPD body camera shows a woman on the ground being arrested for a crime she did not commit. - TAMPA POLICE DEPARTMENT
Tampa Police Department
A screenshot from TPD body camera shows a woman on the ground being arrested for a crime she did not commit.
Newly obtained body camera footage from an arrest involving an innocent Black woman and Tampa Police Department officers adds disturbing details to a violent incident from last summer.

The video is from July 31, 2021 and shows TPD officers Brigitte Curbelo and Briana Yukniewicz responding to a vehicle that was sitting at the intersection of Kennedy and Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa.

The body camera footage shows the officers initiating a DUI check on the driver, pulling him out of the vehicle and pinning him on the ground. His fiancé, who had stepped out of the passenger seat, can be heard in the video voicing concerns about the driver’s safety after he said he couldn’t breathe while the officers were on top of him.

The video then shows the two officers tackle the woman to the ground and arrest her for resisting without violence, a misdemeanor.

Out of respect for the victim’s privacy, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay will not publish the video or the victim’s names.
The charge against the woman was later dropped by the State Attorney’s (SAO13) office, which cited a lack of evidence. SAO13 also told CL that its office never received a charge against the victim’s fiancé, who was initially approached on suspicion of DUI.

After backup officers arrived to help detain the victim's fiancé, the bodycam shows Curbelo and Yukniewicz immediately rush the victim, who was standing several feet away with her arms crossed.

"I'm not doing anything wrong," she said as the officers approached her. The victim was then slammed to the ground face first by Curbelo and Yukniewicz, as she repeatedly said she didn’t do anything wrong.

Curbelo responded with, "Now neither one of you are going home to your kids."

The victim then said, "I hope you guys have this on camera, because I'm not doing anything wrong." Both officers replied that the incident was being recorded.

After being brought back to her feet by the officers, the video shows Curbelo repeatedly telling the victim she has to be quiet as she says she didn't do anything wrong—a violation of the First Amendment and the right to free speech. Nowhere in the video is the victim read her rights.

“Ma’am I do not have to be quiet, are we in America?” the victim asked Curbelo.

After she said this, an unidentified tall white male police officer with sergeant stripes on his arm entered the camera’s frame, put his body up against the victim’s back, twisted her right arm up in the air above her head and shouted, "Do as you're told!" very close to the victim's face.

As he did this, the victim was screaming, "I am doing as I'm told! Put my arm down sir, I can barely breathe!"

"Let me explain something to you, you are not in control of the situation anymore," the TPD sergeant said."You are not giving orders or making decisions, you are to do as you're told, and stop resisting!" "Yes sir," the victim said.

"That's the correct answer!" the sergeant shouted at her. Even though she had conceded, the sergeant continued to twist her arm up in the air while pushing her chest against a TPD squad car.

"Please let go of my arm, I can barely breathe!" she said again. "Your arm has no effect on your ability to breathe," the officer claimed. She told him again that she couldn't breathe. The sergeant then released her arm and placed her in the squad car shortly after.

Body camera footage from a fourth cop who TPD did not name in their public records request response shows the officer arriving late to the scene and approaching the victim in the squad car.

The victim encouraged the fourth officer to watch the body camera footage, and again pointed out how she was not being aggressive toward the officers, but simply worried about her husband's safety.

"There's no reason to be aggressive when somebody's not being aggressive with you," she said, referring to Curbelo and Yukniewicz. "I would tend to agree with you on that," the fourth officer said.

TPD did not respond to several questions about the incident last month, when CL reported on documents describing the incident, and has not responded to additional questions about the body camera footage.

But TPD documents show that the behavior of the officers that night was unjust.

An Internal Affairs (IA) investigation of the incident concluded that Curbelo violated four department policies including standard of conduct, failure to comply with departmental policies, response to resistance and professional responsibility and philosophy of enforcement.

Yukniewicz resigned during the investigation into her behavior, and Curbelo received a three-day suspension, which she is now appealing via the police union. Curbelo had several departmental violations and complaints from the community before this incident, according to records and officer testimony in the IA report.

Her history of violations include breaking of rules when searching, transporting and booking prisoners, and violating department rules when using her body worn recording equipment. She received a letter of counseling from TPD for those other violations.

She is also named in a lawsuit in which a man accused her and another officer of arresting him while having a seizure, and that he was denied medication while detained, thus resulting in him having several more seizures.

Curbelo's notice of disciplinary action for the July 2021 incident said, "The recommended discipline is up to and including termination," but she's still on the force, according to TPD.

The police department has not responded when asked to explain its reasoning for keeping the officer on the force.

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia previously wrote for the USA Today Network, The Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Scalawag Magazine, and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 


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