Black Teacher Sues Austin for Violent Arrest

     AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — A black schoolteacher whose violent arrest for a traffic violation made headlines when police video was released sued the city and the arresting officer this week, and says a second officer made racially charged comments as he drove her to jail.
     Breaion King sued Austin and its police Officer Bryan Richter on Tuesday in Federal Court.
     Video of her arrest on June 15, 2015 was posted on the Internet a year later by KVUE-TV and the Austin-American Statesman.
     King says she was driving home on the interstate after attending classes for a Master’s degree in education at Texas State University, in San Marcos. She acknowledges she was going “slightly over the speed limit” when a red truck sped past her.
     When she saw a patrol car approaching with blinking lights on, she says, she assumed it was pursuing the red truck.
     She pulled into the parking lot of a Wendy’s on East Riverside Drive in Austin, got out of her car and was walking toward the Wendy’s when she saw the patrol car pull into the parking lot, and Richter told her to return to her vehicle, which she did, she says in the complaint.
     King was in the driver’s seat with the door open and her legs outside as Richter approached. She asked if he could pull her over even though she had parked her car and had stepped out.
     Richter told King she was speeding and asked to see her driver’s license. She reached under the seat and the officer told her to put her legs inside the car. King says the incident escalated because Richter did not give her time to comply with his commands.
     “Plaintiff did not refuse to place her legs inside the vehicle, and was not given any time to comply with Officer Richter’s commands,” the complaint states. “Officer Richter then demanded that plaintiff step out of the vehicle and immediately grabbed her to pull her out of her car. Less than ten seconds elapsed between Officer Richter’s first request for plaintiff to put her legs in the car and his decision to rip her out of the vehicle forcefully. Less than one minute elapsed between Officer Richter’s first words to plaintiff and his decision to use force.”
     The complaint continues: “As Officer Richter attempted to rip plaintiff out of her vehicle, he slammed plaintiff against her steering wheel, causing the horn to honk in short bursts and a long, sustained burst, despite plaintiff’s pleas for Officer Richter to stop touching her and to allow her to get out of the car herself. Officer Richter ignored plaintiff’s pleas and literally tore her out of her vehicle with such force that she was lifted off her feet and slammed against a nearby truck and then he threw her to the paved surface.”
     The dashcam video shows Richter physically removing King from the car and throwing her to the ground in the empty parking spot next to her car.
     In his arrest report, Richter wrote that before he dragged King from her car, he saw her reach toward the front passenger side and did not know if she had a weapon.
     As Richter forces King to the asphalt she says: “Oh my God, why are you doing this to me?” The video shows Richter struggling to get her hands behind her back so he can handcuff her.
     When King pushes her way back to a standing position, Richter spins her down to the ground again cuffs her.
     King says the abuse continued after she was “handcuffed and compliant on the ground.”
     After Richter “yanked her upward off the ground by the chain of her handcuffs,” backup officers arrived and asked Richter what had happened.
     “Officer Richter falsely informed them that plaintiff had attempted to throw a punch at him and that she had verbally said ‘no’ twice when he asked her to put her legs in the car,” King says in the complaint.
     It continues: “Officer Richter then said ‘If she was a guy, man, I would have just hit her and been done with it’ to the other officers. Officer Richter then asked for her to be charged with resisting arrest.”
     As Officer Patrick Spradlin drove her to jail, King says, this racially tinged conversation took place. (Spradlin is not a party to the lawsuit.) It was recorded on police audio, according to the complaint.
     “Officer Spradlin: ‘Well let me ask you this. Why are so many people afraid of black people?’
     “King: ‘That’s what I wanna figure out! Because I’m not a bad black person.’
     “Officer Spradlin: ‘I can give you a really good … a really good idea of why it might be that way.’
     “King: ‘Why?’
     “Officer Spradlin: ‘Violent tendencies. And I want you to… I want you to think about that. I’m not saying anything … I’m not saying it’s true. I’m not saying I can prove it or nothing. But 99 percent of the time when you hear about stuff like that, it’s the black community that’s being violent. That’s why a lot of the white people are afraid, and I don’t blame them. There are some guys I look at … I, yeah … I know it’s my job to deal with them and I know it’s probably going to go ugly … But that’s the way it goes. But yeah, some of them, because of their appearance or whatnot, some of them are very intimidating.'” (Ellipses in complaint.)
     The charges of resisting arrest were dismissed in the “interest of justice,” King says in the complaint.
     She says Spradlin’s use of excessive force stems from the city’s inadequate policies, training, hiring practices, and established customs.
     She says she and her attorneys were rebuffed when they tried to speak with Mayor Steve Adler about how to repair relations between police and citizens.
     A city representative said Austin is aware of the lawsuit but has not been served.
     Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a July 21 news conference: “My heart was sickened and saddened when I first learned of this incident.”
     He said he learned of it in a July call from Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who told him the American-Statesman was doing a story on the incident.
     Acevedo apologized to King and her family, saying: “I’m sorry that on the day you were stopped for going fifteen miles per hour [over the speed limit] you were approached in a manner, treated in a manner that was not consistent with the expectations of this police chief or most of the officers of this police department. There’s a way to do this job. On that day we did not approach it anywhere near where we should have approached it. I want to apologize to Breaion and her family.”
     Acevedo ordered an administrative investigation and said the department’s special investigations unit would conduct a criminal investigation of the officers’ actions so the District Attorney’s Office can decide whether to present the case to a grand jury.
     The brouhaha has caused the Austin PD to change its use of force guidelines, NBC affiliate KXAN-TV reported.
     Previously, a “level three” use of force — the lowest level, which involves an officer controlling a subject with bare hands — was reviewed as high as the lieutenant level. Under the new policy, the review of level-three incidents will include the commander overseeing that officer, and a peer commander from a different chain of command.
     Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder told KXAN the change was a public relations move and was “not nearly enough”.
     King seeks punitive damages for personal injuries, constitutional violations, excessive force, deliberate indifference, and inadequate hiring and training.
     She is represented by Broadus Spivey and Erica Grigg.
     As far as policy changes that may result from the lawsuit, Grigg told Courthouse News she hopes that “no one else has to go through what she [King] went through” and that the officers who review tapes of such incidents will receive better training on excessive force. She noted that Richter only received minor discipline for the King incident.
     Grigg also said she believes race was a factor in Richter’s actions. She said what happened to King would not have happened to a white woman like her and that she would not have been “thrown to the ground like a rag doll.”
     She says that before the incident, King very much enjoyed life in Austin. But now she experiences “fear and distress when she sees a cop” and she “doesn’t feel safe in the city she loves.” King does not think all police officers are bad, but in this case Richter should be held accountable for his actions, Grigg said.

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