LAKE WALES, Fla. — Two Lake Wales Police officers accused of brutality in connection with a traffic stop caught on camera won’t face criminal charges amid new details disclosed in a 163-page report that was recently completed by investigators from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
It involves new details regarding what started as a routine traffic stop, including evidence that both a police officer and suspect changed their stories and an officer’s perception being affected by PTSD from a previous incident. The report also says allegations a second officer used a racial slur and hit the suspect were unfounded.
The investigation took nearly six weeks to complete. Reports show investigators interviewed the suspect, two police officers involved in the traffic stop and subsequent physical altercation and a neighbor who told police he witnessed the encounter.
The investigator also reviewed a neighbor’s surveillance video showing parts of the incident, police reports and medical records from the suspect’s trip to the emergency room.
“This was a traffic stop that snowballed out of control”
“I was doing nothing wrong. This was a traffic stop that snowballed out of control,” Chris Cordero said when we first interviewed him in late February.
Cordero was pulled over for a seat belt violation by Lake Wales Police Officer Colt Black while driving to a Publix to pick up medicine for his child.
The incident was captured by a home security camera across the street, but the investigator who reviewed the incident said in his report, “The video can be zoomed in, but the quality greatly deteriorates, making it impossible to see exactly what is occurring.”
“I get out of the vehicle to ask him what’s going on because he’s been following me for a while,” Cordero said in late February.
The video shows Cordero standing by his car for more than 20 seconds, but Officer Black’s report said, “Cordero immediately exited the driver door and began to charge towards my patrol vehicle.”
Black’s initial report also said Cordero came at Black with closed fists.
“That’s absolutely not true,” Cordero said, which was later confirmed by the Polk County investigator who reviewed the video.
“The officer requested to me that I go to the back of my car and put my hands on the trunk. Because he wants to search me to see if I have a weapon,” Cordero told the I-Team in February.
The video shows Cordero walk to the back of the vehicle and shows Black approach the vehicle about 30 seconds later.
What happened next was in dispute.
Officer Black said Cordero refused to provide his identification and resisted when the officer tried to handcuff him.
Cordero alleges Black assaulted him.
“He sucker-punched me from the back, right here… cracked a piece of my tooth out. I landed on the ground,” Cordero previously said in an interview with the I-Team.
Officer Travis Worley arrived during the initial struggle.
Cordero alleged in an official complaint, in his interview with the I-Team and in his first interview with the Polk County investigator that Worley also participated in an assault.
“They both jumped on me and beat me up really bad,” Cordero said in February.
But according to the report, a juvenile who lived nearby and saw most of the encounter reported to investigators that he did not see the officers strike or kick Cordero.
Doctor did not see evidence Cordero was struck multiple times
The doctor who treated Cordero at the emergency room also contradicted Cordero’s initial account.
“He did not see any physical evidence that would suggest Cordero was struck multiple times in the face or head…. that a chip on his tooth was an older chip …. and there was no bleeding in Cordero’s mouth,” the investigator wrote in his report.
Cordero provided the I-Team with written instructions he received from the hospital on caring for a cracked tooth and a facial contusion.
Black did admit there was physical contact in his original police report.
He wrote that he “delivered an elbow strike to the left side of Cordero’s head… because he thought he was reaching for a weapon.”
Officer Black told the investigator he was trying to deliver something called a “brachial stun”.
That defensive maneuver described as a sharp blow to the back of the neck intended to make suspect’s compliant with officers during a physical encounter.
The Polk County investigators determined Black “followed Lake Wales Police Department general order … in an attempt to gain control of him”.
“I can’t tell you they beat the crap out of me”
According to the report, Cordero also changed his story.
“The report said 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,” the report said.
The report went on to say that when questioned further about the allegations of brutality, Cordero told the investigator, “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.’”
The investigator also interviewed Officer Black, Officer Worley and the witness about whether Worley used a racial slur as Cordero claimed in his complaint.
Worley denied using a slur and the other witnesses reported they did not hear him use it either.
As a result of the traffic stop, Cordero was charged with resisting arrest, assault on a law enforcement officer and making a death threat to a law enforcement officer.
Those charges could have landed Cordero in prison for years if he was convicted.
When Cordero bonded out of jail the next day, he went door to door in the neighborhood until he found the footage.
Officer is being treated for PTSD from 2018 incident
After Cordero shared the footage with police, Officer Black wrote in another report, "I believe my perception was altered due to the high stress of the incident."
The State’s Attorney’s Office immediately dropped the charges against Cordero and sent a letter to the Lake Wales Police Department urging the department to investigate what happened during the stop.
Black, who resigned days later, told the investigator “He was currently being treated for PTSD.”
The diagnosis was based on an incident in 2018 when he was severely battered by a suspect.
Black’s therapist wrote a letter to the investigator saying, “The altered perception Black experienced during the traffic stop … was not in any way an act of negligence on his part.”
The State’s Attorney’s Office says it will not pursue criminal charges against Black, Worley or Cordero.
Lake Wales Police Chief Chris Velasquez says the department has not yet completed its own internal investigation.
You can read the entire report here.
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