Tampa, Fla., April 28, 2022 – (Tony Marrero | Tampa Bay Times) — One Tampa police officer resigned, and another officer was suspended in connection to an internal investigation that found they violated policies by taking a woman to the ground and arresting her last summer, records show.
Officer Briana Yukniewicz resigned effective Jan. 4 while the internal investigation into the July 31 incident was still underway.
Officer Brigitte Curbelo was given a three-day suspension, according to a notice of disciplinary action that Curbelo signed on March 1.
The Tampa Bay Times received documents related to the internal investigation this week through a public records request.
An Oct. 18 memo from police Capt. Brett Owen to then-interim Chief Ruben Delgado summarizing the findings of the investigation gives this account:
Yukniewicz and Curbelo were dispatched to a call about a Chevy Tahoe with an unconscious driver at Kennedy Boulevard and Ashley Street. Once awakened, the driver showed signs of impairment and ignored requests to get out of the Tahoe, so Curbelo and Yukniewicz pulled him out. He then refused commands as they tried to handcuff him and place him under arrest on suspicion of DUI, so they held him down until backup officers arrived.
Video taken by one of the backup officer’s body worn camera shows him speaking to a woman who was riding in the Tahoe, according to the memo. The woman is about eight feet from the officers, standing with her arms crossed. She can be heard telling the officers to get off the driver, who was lying on the ground.
Yukniewicz told the woman to get back or she would be taken to jail. The woman said they wouldn’t take her to jail.
“I will,” Yukniewicz replied, and twice told her to back up. Curbelo also told the woman to back up, then both officers grabbed the woman by the arms, took her to the ground and arrested her on a charge of resisting officers without violence.
An arrest report signed by Yukniewicz said the woman refused several commands to step back and was interfering with the investigation. Records show the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office filed a notice on Aug. 6 declining to prosecute the case. The woman later told internal affairs investigators that the man driving the Chevy was her fiancé and they’d been out celebrating her 30th birthday.
Yukniewicz told investigators in an October interview that she perceived the woman as a threat and that she resisted by tensing up and bracing. An interviewer told Yukniewicz that prosecutors decided the woman’s arrest was a “bad arrest,” but Yukniewicz said she would not have changed anything about how they handled the incident.
Owen’s memo said the woman did not appear to resist at any time during the incident, and one of the backup officers who spoke to internal investigators said she did not appear to present a threat to the officers’ safety.
“The officers failed to evaluate the situation and deescalate their own response to the female passenger,” the memo states. “The officers had time and additional officers at their disposal leaving no rush to effect an arrest on the female that was standing and not offering any resistance.”
Investigators concluded that Curbelo and Yukniewicz violated department policies regarding professional responsibility and philosophy of enforcement, response to resistance and standard of conduct.
Owen recommended the department also find Yukniewicz, who had been with the department for about four years, violated the department’s regulations
on “incompetence” because she had three prior sustained violations in the 11 months before the investigation into the arrest. Yukniewicz had received letters of counseling for twice violating the extra duty policy and a single violation of the policy for operating police vehicles, according to the memo.
A message left at a number listed for Yukniewicz was not returned Thursday.
In addition to the three-day suspension, Curbelo also is not eligible to select her shift assignments for two years.
Curbelo, a nine-year veteran of the department, is appealing the suspension with the help of the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, said Danny Alvarez, the union’s general counsel. Alvarez declined to answer questions about the case.
“While we strongly believe that transparency is key in all questions related to police interactions with the public, it is our long standing policy to not discuss open matters while they are actively going through the disciplinary procedures and appeals process,” he said in an email.
The disciplinary action against Curbelo is among the first cases approved by police Chief Mary O’Connor, who started the job on Feb. 8.