CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CN) – A California man who went to a small South Texas town to visit a woman he’d met on Facebook claims he was detained for no reason by the town’s police chief, who put him on a bus back to California after telling him, “You are not welcome here, you gotta go.”
Devon Armstrong sued the city of Taft, Texas and Police Chief Klaus Mansion on Tuesday in Corpus Christi federal court.
The self-styled “Friendliest Cotton-Pickin’ Town in Texas,” Taft, population 3,000, is 18 miles north of Corpus Christi.
Armstrong says in his lawsuit that he went to the Taft Police Department’s headquarters in November 2016 and reported that he was being threatened by his ex-girlfriend’s family.
“Mansion told plaintiff that he had two options: that either plaintiff could leave or he will arrest his ex-girlfriend’s mother,” the complaint states.
Armstrong, who was homeless at the time, says he still had feelings for his ex-girlfriend and didn’t want her mother to be arrested, so he agreed to leave Taft.
“Mansion had a police officer escort plaintiff to a shelter in Corpus Christi and sent plaintiff a bus ticket,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit does not name Armstrong’s ex-girlfriend, but local media reported that Armstrong had traveled to Taft from California in autumn 2016 to visit Taft resident Amber Aranda after meeting her on Facebook.
Armstrong’s attorney, Christopher Gale, said in a phone interview Wednesday that Mansion or Taft police officers put Armstrong on a bus bound for California two or three times.
Gale said Armstrong is no longer homeless.
“He’s living in California and doing well…I think he might be attending school,” Gale said.
According to the lawsuit, after Taft police dropped Armstrong off at the Corpus Christi shelter, Armstrong’s ex-girlfriend contacted him and told him a business in Taft had offered him a job and scheduled him to work the next day.
So Armstrong returned to Taft to take the job, he says.
Armstrong says shortly thereafter, a Taft policeman approached him in the city’s public library, told him to step outside, handcuffed him and took him to the police station.
“Plaintiff was informed that he had been issued a criminal trespass warning for the city of Taft and could not return. Apparently, the criminal trespass warning had been issued by Chief Mansion,” the complaint states.
Armstrong says Mansion told him at the police station that he was banned from the town and if Mansion saw him there again he would be arrested.
“There is a big sign when you came into town didn’t it, it said Taft that means stay the hell away, you are not welcome here, you gotta go, turn around, go back, however you want to interpret it, it’s the same thing, you are not welcome here.” Mansion told Armstrong, according to the lawsuit.
Mansion told a Taft policeman to take Armstrong to the bus stop and “make sure this boy gets on the bus,” the lawsuit states.
The advice Mansion gave Armstrong at the police station was secretly recorded by a Taft city employee and is cited verbatim in the lawsuit. The Coastal Bend Chronicle posted the footage on YouTube in March. The video is time-stamped Nov. 10, 2016.
Armstrong says in the lawsuit that despite the trespass order, he decided he had done nothing wrong and returned to Taft shortly after he was dropped off at the bus stop.
Armstrong claims Mansion kept harassing him and drove him to his breaking point.
“Plaintiff attempted suicide by hanging himself,” the complaint states. “Officers arrived at the scene and plaintiff thought better about this and jumped down from the tree at which time an officer kneed plaintiff in his back and body and slammed plaintiff to the ground, while a different female officer jumped on plaintiff’s back. Soon thereafter, plaintiff finally succumbed to the continued harassment and was shipped off by defendant Mansion for the final time.”
Armstrong wants punitive damages for Fourth Amendment claims of unreasonable search and seizure, false arrest and false imprisonment. He also brought a federal municipal liability claim against Taft, and an infliction of emotional distress claim against Mansion under Texas law.
He also wants them to pay his medical bills.
Taft City Manager Denise Hitt declined to comment on the lawsuit.
A San Patricio County grand jury charged Mansion with misdemeanor official oppression in April after news reports came out about his treatment of Armstrong. Taft officials placed Mansion on paid leave, but reinstated him in June after prosecutors dropped the charge in return for his agreement to take a class, KRISTV reported in June.
Though Armstrong left Taft and returned to California, his conflict with its police department continued. They got warrants for his arrest in July based on allegations that he had sent Aranda text messages in which he threatened her and said he was going to shoot and kill Taft police, local media reported.
Armstrong was charged with three counts of making a terroristic threat and one count of a terroristic threat against a public servant.
But Armstrong’s attorney, Gale, told Courthouse News he believes the warrants and charges are bogus.
“After they knew that they had done wrong, and they knew that they were going to be sued, they came up with these warrants for what we think is going to be determined to be a fictitious case,” Gale said.
He said the warrants will not stop Armstrong from returning to Texas for hearings in his case.
Gale said he hopes the lawsuit will stop Mansion from running anyone else out of Taft.
“Just because there [are] people in our society that we may not get along with, or disagree with, or we don’t like, doesn’t give us the ability or the power to make those determinations and restrict somebody from our state or our country or our city. Just because of a whim. So I’m concerned with that. I don’t want this to happen to anybody else and that’s why we filed this,” Gale said.
Gale has sued Taft before over Mansion’s alleged actions.
He represented Marcus Adams, a black man who sued the city and Mansion in federal court last year, alleging Mansion gave him a Heil Hitler salute after he saw two Taft policemen with their cruisers in neighboring Portland, and asked them why they were in Portland because it is outside their jurisdiction.
They settled the case in September and Adams dismissed his claims with prejudice.