EUCLID, Ohio — With the trial in its third day, Euclid police officer Michael Amiott took the stand in his own defense as he testified Wednesday in the excessive force case connected to an August 2017 traffic stop.
Amiott, who is charged with two counts of assault and one count of interfering with civil rights, was questioned as the courtroom reviewed video of the incident that shows him punching Richard Hubbard multiple times.
“There’s a better angle of this, but his right hand is coming down my back,” Amiott said. “His right hand is up on me, it comes down my back and goes into the area of my duty belt. That’s heightening my awareness. I don’t know if he’s reaching for something or if he’s just trying to grab a hold of something trying to roll me off.”
We streamed all of Wednesday morning's trial proceedings and testimony live, which you can watch in full below:
He then referenced the knives, guns, pepper spray and other items that are also on his belt.
“If his hand is flailing around, whether he’s intending to or not, and he grabs a hold of my gun, for example, then me and my partner are going to have to make a decision,” Amiott said. “It’s concerning when his hands are on my belt. It’s concerning to me. So that’s why the strikes are thrown. Eventually I’m able to get his arm up and we go into what is called a resting mount, which is another training position.”
During the incident, both Amiott and Hubbard were struck by a Taser that was deployed by another officer at the scene. Amiott said it was that moment in which he broke his hand and hurt his shoulder as the two fell.
“My partner used a Taser. The Taser was ineffective. My experience with pepper spray up close, we’ve sprayed people that are close you are going to get the pepper spray if you spray someone close. I would identify a lot of his resistance as what I would refer to as he grabs on and holds, baton strikes with my injured shoulder and hand, I don’t know if he were to grab a hold of that. I felt that hands were the best way to do it at that point.”
Prior to the punches, Amiott was also asked to detail what happened leading up to that moment.
“First he tells me initially he doesn’t have any type of ID on him,” Amiott said of the initial traffic stop. “Then I ask him to spell his name. He eventually produces an ID. When he does that, it’s an Ohio ID card. He doesn’t have a driver’s license. He can be arrested for that. So the plan was we were going to take him for no driver’s license. He was going to be arrested for no driver’s license, given a citation. Then we were going to begin a narcotics investigation.”
Amiott said he began taking Hubbard into the “escort position” to put handcuffs on him.
“I take him into the escort position, which is usually your hand above the elbow, your other hand on the wrist. As I’m trying to turn around when he puts a shoulder into my chest and he starts to take that third step, he’s not responding to commands so we go to balance displacement. Balance displacement is a push or a pull to take someone off balance. You have to push them hard enough to knock them off balance, and we use that shoulder-to-ear technique that’s very common. So you take a shoulder and push it to their ear.”
Amiott said the situation eventually escalated to “wrestling.”
“He grabs the arm hole right above my gun. So now he’s matching my force. This is escalating very quickly, but it’s based on his behavior. Our use-of-force continuum, we call it response resistance. So when you grab a policeman by the neck, that would come up to wrestling with an officer. Wrestling is any time someone tries to gain a position of advantage.”
That level, he said, brings the response of striking, punching, kicking, aerosols, electrical devices or batons. He also claimed Hubbard was reaching for his boot at one point in the confrontation.
“This is significant because he’s trying to take me down at this point. I believe he’s trying to take me down. What also is significant about it is I’m carrying an ankle holster on. Our department authorizes backup weapons. I’m carrying a Glock 26 on my ankle. He very well might not know it’s there, but it’s held on by Velcro. That definitely has heightened my awareness when he’s grabbing at my feet and there’s a gun attached to my foot, my ankle.”
After a lunch break during the trial, Amiott was cross-examined by special prosecutor Dominic Vitantonio.
When reviewing video footage of the vehicle turning right at a red light, Amiott was asked if he believed the car was stopped prior to turning.
"I believe that it comes close, but that vehicle is moving. I don't believe that the vehicle stops all the way."
Amiott assured that he only stopped Hubbard for a red light violation.
Vitantonio criticized Amiott for not checking Hubbard’s background after receiving his ID.
“You could have found out if he had a DUI suspension, which is the most serious suspension, but you did not do any of that stuff, you instead told him to get out of the car."
Vitantonio proceeded to review footage of the incident, with Amiott claiming that Hubbard had grabbed his hands, which he viewed as a threat. The two disputed whether Hubbard grabbing Amiott's hands came as a result of him being punched.
Vitantonio then noted a specific sequence in which foul language could be heard right before Amiott threw another round of punches. He then played dashcam footage from another officer's vehicle that showed Amiott punching Hubbard in the back of the head with a closed fist before directing officers to arrest a woman who was screaming while filming the incident.
Following a recess, Vitantonio asked Amiott about his report that he smelt an odor of "raw marijuana" in Hubbard's car. Amiott noted that it was another officer who prepared the physical report while he was in the hospital.
Vitantonio proceeded to show Amiott a picture from the evidence taken by another officer purporting marijuana in the vehicle. Amiott said that he couldn't answer whether the picture was of marijuana in the vehicle and that the evidence was destroyed by the narcotics unit a few years ago.
Vitantonio asked Amiott about his employment history and why he previously left his job as an officer in the City of Mentor in April of 2014. Amiott confirmed he was told he was being terminated for "among other things" falsifying records related to a separate traffic stop before being given a chance to resign with a pre-written statement. His defense countered with records showing he had been "truthful" in the investigation of that case.
Earlier in the week, Hubbard also testified at the trial.
“I’m on the ground, he hops right up and starts slamming my head on the ground, which I don’t even know why he did that," Hubbard said when asked to explain what was happening at specific moments from the incident. "But then my girlfriend gets out of the car and starts screaming.”
You can watch video from Hubbard's testimony in the video below:
Hubbard said he wasn't fighting back.
“I never touched the officer," he said. "I never even brought up my fists at the officer. I protected my face from the punches, but you can’t see it from this video.”
When it was over, Hubbard said he sat in the squad car disappointed at what happened.
“A traffic stop just turned into me just getting beat up for no reason.”
Hubbard was accused of resisting arrest after allegedly refusing Amiott's orders, and the ensuing struggle resulted in Hubbard being hit multiple times while on the ground. The criminal charges against Hubbard were later dropped, and while he suffered no permanent injuries, the city later agreed to a $450,000 settlement with both him and the owner of the car he was driving.
Following a 45-day suspension, Euclid Mayor Kirsten Holzheimer Gail fired Amiott from the police force, but an independent arbitrator reinstated him a year later. Nevertheless, Amiott was arrested and charged in Euclid Municipal Court in August of 2019 following further investigation, and his trial was subsequently delayed two years by COVID-19.