SHERMAN, Texas (CN) – An unarmed, black teenage girl who cried in a viral video as she was pinned to the ground by a white police officer at a Texas pool party claims the former officer’s use of force was excessive.
Dajerria Becton and her mother, Shashona Becton, sued the city of McKinney, its police department and former police officer David Eric Casebolt in Sherman, Texas, federal court on Dec. 19. The younger Becton is referred to as D.B. in the lawsuit but has been named in news reports.
A predominantly white and affluent suburb of Dallas, McKinney was thrust into the national debate on race and police when the seven-minute video was posted on YouTube in 2015. Casebolt and 11 other officers are shown responding to a call about fights and uninvited guests at a privately owned community swimming pool at the Craig Ranch master-planned community.
Casebolt is shown wrestling an unarmed and bikini-clad Becton to the ground as other teenagers cry and scream around them. Casebolt is shown unholstering his service weapon and appears to point it at two black male teenagers closest to him, who run away. Casebolt then reholsters his gun and pins a screaming Becton to the ground with his knees as she repeatedly asked for her mother.
Casebolt resigned and apologized within days, ending investigations by the police department and city manager. He denied racism played a role in the arrest, citing the stress of responding to two suicide calls earlier in the day.
Police referred the case to the Texas Rangers for further investigation, who presented their findings to a Collin County grand jury that declined to indict Casebolt last June.
Becton’s lawsuit claims she sustained injuries to her back, neck and arms in the incident. She was 15 years old at the time.
“Defendant Casebolt had no probably cause or reasonable suspicion to believe that [Becton] was or had committed a crime,” the 15-page complaint states. “In fact, there are eyewitnesses to the entire incident who did not see D.B. breaking any laws prior to being physically assaulted by defendant Casebolt.”
Becton claims the city and police have a record of not adequately training their cops to prevent the use of excessive force “especially as it relates to youthful offenders.”
“Upon information and belief, MPD officers are trained by individuals with little or no experience working in the field,” the complaint states.
City officials disputed the lawsuit’s claims and said it will “vigorously defend” itself.
“McKinney prides itself in cultivating the highest standards of training and professionalism for our officers, and it strongly believes that its standards and training will withstand legal challenge,” the city said in a statement Tuesday.
Becton seeks actual and punitive damages for claims of excessive force, failure to train, false arrest, negligence, gross negligence, assault and battery. She is represented by Kim T. Cole in Frisco, Texas.
Cole told reporters Wednesday afternoon she did not announce the filing of the lawsuit last month to spare her client from backlash on social media and disruption of her personal life.
“I want to keep her away from all the cyberbullying that has occurred with this case,” Cole said at a press conference. “I would ask members of the media – regardless of your opinion or your take on what transpired – to be respectful of the fact that she is a child. All of this has a tremendous impact on her existence.”
Cole said Becton has received “tremendous” backlash online from racists, strangers and people from her school.
“It has had a detrimental effect on her,” the attorney said. “She is naturally shy … to constantly hear all these negative things from people who don’t even know her, who have never met her, definitely has an impact on her self-esteem and security.”
Cole called the girl's case a “textbook excessive force” claim.
“The officer slammed her on the ground, sat on her, put his knee on her neck and was constantly slamming her face into the ground,” she said. “It’s pretty cut and dry.”
In response to the city’s statements, Cole reminded reporters that McKinney Police Chief Greg Conley stated after the incident that Casebolt’s actions were “indefensible.”
“How do you defend the indefensible?” Cole asked incredulously.Follow @davejourno
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.