“I’ll break your f***ing neck”
NEWS 8 EXCLUSIVE
DALLAS — As a member of the Dallas SWAT team, Terigi Rossi was a regular fixture on the TV show of the same name.
But in a confrontation last fall with a 14-year-old boy, Rossi was anything but a stellar representative of the force.
In profanity-laden terms, Rossi is seen on video telling the teen what’s going to happen if he doesn’t shut up.
“I’ll break your f***ing neck,” he says in the recording, which News 8 obtained through an open records request. “You understand me? You understand me?”
The nearly four-minute video was recorded on a phone in the boy’s hand. It doesn’t appear the officer had any idea the teen was recording the incident.
“This is not good,” said Dallas civil rights attorney Scott Palmer, who reviewed the video for WFAA. “Hopefully this is not representative of the Dallas Police Department, but this is what cell phones show. This shows what happens on the street.”
A recording shows a Dallas police officer’s encounter with a 14-year-old boy last October.
Rossi lost his high-profile gig on the SWAT team after he was caught sleeping on the job two years ago. He wasn’t back on patrol for long when he and the teen crossed paths last October.
Rossi and his partner were responding to a report of a 911 hang-up call. The boy told police that Rossi put his arm around him, choking him. A supervisor did not observe any injuries to the teen.
Rossi told internal investigators that he put his arm around the boy to console him.
In his statement to internal investigators, Rossi said he was using “verbal judo” to try to get information from the teen. He said that telling him he would break his neck was a “verbal technique that I’ve used to try to calm down people or suspects in my career with no intention of ever meaning the words I say.”
In the end, no one was arrested. No one was taken to jail.
“He lost his temper,” Palmer said. “He’s so revved up with adrenaline that he’s talking faster than he’s thinking. Actually, I think the young man — the youngster — handled it much more professionally than the officer did. I’m sure that he has this kind of confrontation with a lot more people than we know about, because not everybody has access to a cell phone when you need it.”
Rossi did not return a request for comment, but he did authorize the Dallas Fraternal Order of Police to speak on his behalf.
“He realizes he made a mistake,” said Richard Todd, the union’s president. “He said something he shouldn’t have said. He does say he wishes he had a body camera so that everything that happened before could have been recorded. Basically, the kid got under his skin and he said something he shouldn’t have said.”
According to police records, officers responded to a 911 hang-up call at an apartment complex in north central Dallas on October 1, 2014. Rossi and his partner, Senior Cpl. Stacy Ward, told internal investigators that when they got there, no one answered the door.
A woman finally did answer the door, telling officers that she didn’t call 911.
Rossi said she was combative, banging on the door and telling the teen to be quiet, which is why — he says — he put her in handcuffs.
His partner’s account does not indicate the woman was combative or violent in any way. She describes the woman as saying she had called the police because her vehicle had been towed, and that she had hung up because she thought the conversation was over.
Ward said Rossi went into apartment and spoke to the boy. When he came out, he said he was arresting the woman.
“After Officer Rossi placed her in handcuffs, I asked the son what he told the officer and he said he told him [Rossi] nothing,” Ward wrote.
The video shows the officers escorting the woman to the squad car. The teen follows. Rossi then turns his attention to the teen, asking if she is his mother. The teen initially says “yes,” but then explains that his real mother is work. It turns out she was his stepmother.
Throughout the video, the teen speaks in a matter-of-fact tone, never using profanity with the officer.
Rossi threatens to take the teen downtown to speak to a detective if he doesn’t talk with him.
“Then you’re gonna go to a foster home,” Rossi says in the recording. “I need to know what happened here, because right now, she’s going to jail.”
The teen asks why. Rossi responds that it’s because she didn’t listen to him.
The teen reiterates that nothing happened. Rossi asks the teen why she told him to shut up.
The teen responds: “She’s telling you to shut up.”
Raising his voice, Rossi then says: “No, she’s telling you to shut up. I understand Spanish. OK, believe it or not, I went to school. I understand Spanish. I’m not stupid. So you want to lie to me, too? Look at me when you talk to me. OK, be a man.”
The teen then tells the officer to remove his sunglasses and look him in the eye.
Clearly angered, Rossi leans in, telling the teen: “If I were you, son, I’d shut the f*** up, cause I’ll break your f***ing neck. You understand me?”
Rossi tells the teen that he’s under arrest.
The teen asks why, telling the officer not to touch him. The teen breaks free.
“I’m telling you right now, Get the f*** over here! Listen to me!” Rossi instructs the fleeing teen. “You’re just like your mother. You’re a piece of f***ing s***. You little [expletive].”
In Rossi’s police report about the incident, he says the boy started to cry and he placed his arm around him to “console” him. The report did not mention that he had threatened the teen.
“I saw a lot of hostility,” said Palmer, the Dallas civil rights attorney. “‘Comforting’ would be the last thing I would call it. There was no comfort. He was getting personal and derogatory.”
Palmer said what concerns him the most is that Rossi’s police report on the incident does not match what the video shows happened.
“That’s what’s really scary,” Palmer said. “When you try to manipulate the truth, and when you think the truth isn’t really going to be known, because who’s going to believe this kid?”
In the end, a supervisor who was called to the scene decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest either of them. The woman told the sergeant that she had called the police because her car had been towed.
She soon contacted the supervisor, telling him she had video of the incident.
The teen told the sergeant that this arm and neck were sore because Rossi grabbed him.
The teen did not have any visible injuries, and the video does not clearly show how Rossi touched the teen. Rossi’s partner told investigators that she did see him with his arm around the teen, but she could not hear the conversation because she was in the squad car.
In a later statement to internal investigators, Rossi said he threatened to break the teen’s neck because he had been rude with him, and he was trying to regain control of the scene. Rossi said he placed his arm around the teen “in a hugging manner.” He denied entering false information on his report.
“There was never any malice or intent on my part,” he wrote. “All I want(ed) to do is find out what had occurred on this particular call. Could I (have) handled this particular situation differently, ‘yes, but this is a job that if you don’t show your control at the scene things can get very ugly.”
He said if the woman and the boy had “just told the truth from the beginning this would have been just another 911 call.”
Rossi is back at work at the city’s North Central patrol station — the same area where the October 2014 confrontation occurred.