A local man is taking three Phenix City Police officers to court alleging excessive force and wrongful arrest. News 3 was first to bring you the graphic dash cam footage of the incident on March 30, 2018.
“They absolutely, unlawfully beat up a citizen for, as far as I can see, no good or just cause,” says Griffin Sikes, the attorney who represents the man in the video, Michael Ruda.
Ruda’s lawsuit stems from the incident that started around 12:30 a.m. when Officer Tobias Boisvert was on patrol around Highway 280. Officer Boisvert was, according to the complaint, on the lookout for a possible DUI.
The dash cam video shows Boisvert activate his police siren behind a white truck driven by Ruda. Ruda pulled into a parking lot of the now closed down Glory Days bar. The officer’s dash cam shows Boisvert point his gun and demand Ruda exit his vehicle.
Ruda — hands in the air — is then thrown to the ground when Officers Michael Bettencourt and Joshua Geiger also step in.
“I thought it was outrageous. The film clip when I first saw it, I thought this must be someone who has just shot up a bank or something,” Sikes tells News 3’s Mikhaela Singleton.
Instead during this routine traffic stop, video shows one officer making repeated knees to Ruda’s stomach and all three punching him after he’s been tackled to the ground. The complaint alleges the officers even tased him three times while he was on the ground.
Following the stop, a municipal court judge threw out charges accusing Ruda of DUI, attempting to elude, and criminal mischief. He was still convicted of resisting arrest.
“I guess I’ve seen that footage maybe 10 or 15 times or so. If there is anything in there that indicates in any way that he resisted, I don’t see it,” Sikes says.
News 3 reached out to Phenix City Police Chief Ray Smith on the incident. He says his department conducted an internal investigation into the initial use of force complaint.
Chief Smith says Officers Boisvert, Bettencourt, and Geiger were cleared of any wrongdoing.
“How a police officer, supposedly a professional, can look at that and call that acceptable behavior, I don’t understand,” Sikes says.
“I invite your viewers to take a look at the film footage and see what these three police officers did and see whether they think this is acceptable behavior.”
Ruda is now suing the three officers under federal civil rights statute Section 1983 that allows public officials to be held liable if they step outside the authority the law grants them. Ruda is seeking compensatory damages based on the broken arm, cuts, and bruises it is documented he sustained during the incident.
“The arm has not been the same since then. He has had some diminishment in his ability to use that arm,” Sikes explains.
The case also seeks punitive damages to “deter them from like conduct in the future,” according to Sikes.
“But it is also to deter others like them. If there’s a damage award for punitive damages here, and that would be known within the Phenix City Police Department, then other police officers are going to think twice when they encounter somebody out on some lonely road,” he says.
Sikes tells News 3 he was also shocked to learn Phenix City does not take out liability insurance policies on its officers.
“For the safety of the citizens, there ought to be a way to make a recovery when and if a police officer makes a mistake and injures somebody, but there isn’t any,” Sikes explains. “Most police officers don’t have the money to pay out of their pocket for when they do make their mistakes.”
“That would protect the police where they get sued, it would protect the citizens where if somebody gets put in the hospital, as Mr. Ruda was.”
Sikes says the complaint isn’t lodged against the city based on the stipulations of the federal statute Section 1983.
“The city of Phenix City is not automatically liable for what the police officers do. The police officers only have liability for their actions,” he explains.
“I don’t know what the police chief or these police officers’ supervisor did or didn’t do, and so I don’t have any basis for suing them. I do know what Boisvert and Bettencourt and Geiger did.”
Sikes says during the current leg of the case, known as discovery, he will have the opportunity to drum up evidence and request documentation of the incident and investigation. He says a lawsuit against Phenix City may be possible if proof of negligence is found during the discovery process.
Chief Smith says he “cannot make a comment on ongoing litigation.”