(CN) — A mother of five says in a lawsuit she needs facial reconstruction surgery after an El Paso, Texas policeman repeatedly punched her and broke her nose while she was handcuffed.
Anna Barnes, 34, sued the city of El Paso, its Police Chief Gregory Allen and Officers Jarred Frank and Oliver Meise on Thursday in federal court in El Paso.
Barnes, an insurance broker, and her kids had just left a birthday party when around 10 p.m. on Aug. 27, 2021, a cigarette ember blew onto her arm and burned it while she was driving her SUV 5 to 10 mph, according to the complaint.
She brushed the ember off and accidentally drove over a curb and struck a small tree.
No one was injured. But Barnes says she and her children got out of the car and she called an acquaintance to come pick them up.
Minutes later, Frank and Meise pulled up in their police cruiser.
Though the officers did not perform any field sobriety tests on Barnes or ask her to blow in a breathalyzer to measure her blood-alcohol level, Meise told her she was going to be arrested for DWI with children in the car under age 15, a felony. The officers reportedly said they smelled alcohol on her.
Barnes says she started crying and Frank came over and kicked her legs out from under her, rolled her on her stomach, handcuffed her on sat her on the curb.
Barnes’ tears seemed to irritate Frank, she claims, and he hit her twice in the face.
“When the handcuffed Anna criticized the excessive force just inflicted upon her, Officer Frank started repeatedly striking Anna in the face-over ten more times as Anna tried to say more but the strength of the blows increased as she started to scream. During this time Meise was holding onto Anna’s shoulder to assist Frank land the blows,” the complaint states.
With her face swelling up and eyes blackened from the blows, paramedics placed Barnes on a stretcher as her terrified children looked on. She was taken to a hospital where a CT scan revealed Frank had broken her nose.
According to Barnes, an emergency room doctor stated she was “clinically sober” and determined the assault had caused her injuries.
As further proof of her sobriety, Barnes says after the officers booked her into El Paso County Jail she agreed to a blood test, and it was analyzed by the Texas Department of Public Safety. The agency declared in December she had “passed” the test so her driver’s license would not be suspended.
Nonetheless, El Paso County District Attorney Yvonne Rosales has refused to drop Barnes’ charges.
In response to queries about Barnes’ case from a local TV station, the DA’s office said besides proving a driver had a blood-alcohol concentration of more than .08, prosecutors can secure a DWI conviction by proving any amount of alcohol ingested had caused the driver to lose the normal use of their faculties and crash their vehicle.
Barnes says despite Frank admitting in a sworn affidavit he had struck her face several times, DA Rosales has declined to prosecute him, and he got off with a light punishment from the El Paso Police Department.
“True to form and despite an El Paso internal affairs investigation Meise went wholly unpunished and Frank was given only an 8-hour suspension by Chief Allen in a discipline system shrouded in secrecy,” the lawsuit states.
Barnes’ attorney, Randall Kallinen of Houston, said in a statement El Paso, population 679,000, is the only major city in Texas whose police officers do not wear body cameras, though its City Council recently approved spending $6.6 million for 700 of them.
Still, its police are not expected to start wearing them until summer 2023, according to the El Paso Herald-Post.
"El Paso needs body cameras yesterday and also needs city and county officials who are serious about stopping violent police officers and not protecting them,” Kallinen said.
Barnes seeks at least $100,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
She accuses the officers of federal civil rights violations of excessive force and failure to intervene. She also sued them for assault under state law.
As for the city and Chief Allen, Barnes aims to hold them liable for municipal liability, a federal civil rights allegation with a high bar that requires her to prove a policy of the El Paso Police Department was the moving force of the constitutional violations that caused her injuries.
Barnes alleges the city, through Chief Allen, has a policy of not disciplining or investigating officers accused of using excessive force.
Neither the city attorney's office nor DA Rosales responded Thursday night to requests for comment on Barnes’ allegations.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.