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Friday, October 23, 2009

Ex-Montgomery officer gets two years in prison

Calling him "a disgrace to the profession," Chief U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin sentenced Matthew A. Leavitt, a former Montgomery police officer who admitted he violated a interracial couple's civil rights, to two years in prison Thursday.

In July, Leavitt, 31, pleaded guilty to two federal misdemeanors, acknowledging that he wrongly arrested Lauren Reynolds for DUI and that he beat her husband, Twan Reynolds, with a slapjack.

The Reynolds' daughter, Kaleigha, then 4 years old, was strapped into her car seat a few feet away.

Goodwin said Leavitt's offense was "truly disgusting" and "a shock to my conscience."

Moreover, it was part of a pattern of harassment, in which Leavitt and fellow officer Shawn Hutchinson frequently stopped black men and took their pictures, the judge said. They then compiled a database on a computer at the police station, he said.

On the night of Sept. 26, 2008, Leavitt and Hutchinson pulled in front of the Reynolds' car as it was leaving the parking lot of the 7-Eleven in Montgomery, where they had just put air in one of their tires.

Even through she had not been drinking, and over her protestations of innocence and requests for a Breathalyzer test, Leavitt arrested Lauren Reynolds for DUI. When Twan Reynolds objected, Leavitt pulled him out of the car and, amid a shower of profanities, hit him in the head with the slapjack, which has been banned from police use, the judge said.

"At no point had Mr. Reynolds resisted," he said.

Montgomery Police Lt. J.D. Burrow then arrived, and told his two subordinates to stand down while he handled the situation, Goodwin said. Leavitt threatened to arrest his superior officer, who retreated, fearing for his own safety.

The verbal and physical abuse continued after Twan and Lauren Reynolds were taken to the police station, he said.

Leavitt grabbed Lauren Reynolds by the neck and shoved her against the wall, then licked her neck, the judge said. Leavitt also put on a plastic glove, squirted pepper spray onto his finger, and rubbed the irritant in Twan Reynolds' face and eyes, he said.

For two weeks following the assault, Twan Reynolds had blood in his urine, and he has permanent damage to his right eye, Goodwin said. His wife and daughter have both been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.

After the incident, the couple slept in shifts and kept a shotgun in their home because there were rumors that Leavitt was going to kill them, the judge said.

Goodwin said he respected and admired almost all of the police officers he knows, because they do a dangerous, difficult and stressful job.

"Actions such as this diminish trust and respect for the police," he said.

During the hearing on Thursday, Lauren Reynolds told Goodwin that what started as a pleasant family outing to a football game ended as a nightmare.


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