Federal Lawsuit Claims Excessive Force by Austin Police
By Jordan Rudner, Texas Tribune, Feb. 15, 2016
One week after an Austin police officer shot and killed an unarmed, black 17-year-old, two San Antonio tourists filed a federal lawsuit against several Austin Police Department officers, claiming the officers used excessive force when arresting them in November.
In last fall’s much-publicized incident, Austin police officers arrested Jeremy King, 22, and Lourdes Glen, 24, alleging they had jaywalked on Austin’s 6th Street. Video taken of the arrest shows several officers forcing King and another friend — Matthew Wallace, 23 — to the ground. King and Wallace are black. Glen is Hispanic.
The suit names Austin police officers Richard Munoz, Brian Huckaby, Gustave Gallenkamp, Vanessa Jiminez and other “unknown officers.”
At one point in the video, an officer appears to punch Wallace repeatedly, though Wallace is already being held on the ground by three officers.
“I’m down, I’m down, bro,” Wallace says on the video, which went viral online. “I’m down, I’m down. What did I do?”
The lawsuit filed Monday by Austin attorney Brian McGiverin includes allegations of excessive force and violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. McGiverin, who is representing King and Glen — but not Wallace — said he advised Wallace not to join the lawsuit because Wallace had been charged with resisting arrest, a more difficult charge to fight.
“What happened here is outrageous. It was unreasonable, it was racist, and it was unconstitutional,” McGiverin said Monday. “We deserve a police department that is going to abide by the restrictions of the Constitution.”
Representatives for the Austin Police Department did not return requests for comment. Shortly after the incident, the department said it was reviewing the events captured in the video.
After the arrest, King, who was not ultimately charged with a crime, went to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with multiple sprained muscles in addition to cuts and bruises, according to the lawsuit. He and Glen are suing for damages, but he said what they really want to see is departmental change.
“In that moment, when it happened … my fear was that my life was in danger, honestly,” King said. “I felt powerless, I felt weak, and that’s not my normal nature.”
The incident is part of a larger trend of police brutality toward black and Hispanic young people, McGiverin said, and he wants the officers involved to face consequences. He pointed out that multiple white jaywalkers in the video were not arrested or confronted by officers.
The goal is to “make sure that they and the department know that they’ll be held accountable when this happens,” he said. “This falls into a larger pattern of practice we’re seeing from the Austin Police Department. It’s just not often publicized because these events aren’t usually caught on video.”
Last week, Officer Geoffrey Freeman killed 17-year-old David Joseph, who was naked and unarmed at the time. Mayor Steve Adler has called for an expedited investigation into the death, which sparked protests in Austin.