Author: AP News
This post originally appeared on Snopes.com
DENVER (AP) — Three Colorado police officers involved in the rough arrest of a 73-year-old woman with dementia — and later seen on video talking about her arrest, laughing and joking at times — have resigned, police said Friday.
Loveland Police Chief Robert Ticer announced the departures of Officers Austin Hopp and Daria Jalali and Community Services Officer Tyler Blackett in connection to the arrest of Karen Garner at a news conference, without providing details about how they left. Department spokesman Tom Hacker later confirmed they had resigned.
Ticer noted that last year’s treatment of Garner in the city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Denver, revealed by the filing of a federal lawsuit this month, had led to an outpouring of concern and anger in the community, the country and around the world and apologized.
“Our goal at the Loveland Police Department has always been to make our community proud. We failed and we are very sorry for that,” he said.
The officers could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Hopp arrested Garner in June 2020 after she left a store without paying for about $ 14 worth of items. His b ody camera footage shows him catching up to her as she walked through a field along a road. She shrugged and turned away from him and he quickly grabbed her arm and pushed her 80-pound (36-kilogram) body to the ground. A federal lawsuit filed on Garner’s behalf, which included images from the body camera footage, claims Hopp dislocated her shoulder by shoving her handcuffed left arm forward onto the hood of his patrol car and that she was denied medical treatment for about six hours.
In response to the lawsuit, the department announced it was putting Hopp, the arresting officer, on leave. Jalali, who arrived to help Hopp shortly after Garner was handcuffed, and Blackett, who helped transport Garner to the police station, were put on leave later, as was a supervisory sergeant who stopped by the arrest scene. Hopp, Jalali and Blackett were also captured on surveillance video with enhanced audio released by the lawyer representing Garner and her family this week that shows them watching Hopp’s body camera footage and talking about the arrest as Garner was handcuffed in a holding cell a few feet away. At one point, Hopp refers to hearing a “pop” sound as he recounts repeatedly pushing Garner, suggesting that he was aware that he had injured her.
Sarah Schielke, the lawyer representing Garner and her family, said the department has a toxic culture that goes beyond the three officers who resigned and she thinks Ticer should have also stepped down to take responsibility for it.
“It’s this attitude of arrogance and entitlement, and frivolity taken in the use of force on its citizens and complete disregard for the people they’re policing,” she said.
She also faulted the department for not firing the supervisory sergeant and another sergeant who approved of Hopp’s use of force report.
Ticer said he did not know of Garner’s serious injuries until the lawsuit but he declined to say how many people in his chain of command knew about her injuries, saying that would be looked at by a city investigation into whether police policies were followed in the arrest. That probe will not start until after an investigation to determine whether any criminal charges are warranted that is being conducted by police in nearby Fort Collins. They are part of a team of area law enforcement agencies that investigates other departments’ uses of force resulting in serious injuries in coordination with the district attorney.
The officers eventually push Mr. Gonzalez to the ground facedown and handcuff him. “What are we going to do?” the first officer asks. “Just keep him pinned down?”
“It’s OK, Mario,” the officer later says. “We’re going to take care of you.”
The first officer asks for Mr. Gonzalez’s last name and his birthday and tells him to keep talking. He answers in whimpered bursts and later begins grunting. At one point, he seems to say, “Please don’t do it.”
After about four and a half minutes of body camera footage showing Mr. Gonzalez pinned to the ground, a third officer is seen on his legs. When one officer asks if they should roll him on his side, another replies, “I don’t want to lose what I got.”
“We have no weight on his chest, nothing,” the second officer observes, pointing to Mr. Gonzalez’s back. As the first officer tries to adjust his position, the second says: “No, no, no. No weight, no weight, no weight.”
Seconds later, the officers notice that Mr. Gonzalez has become unresponsive. They roll him onto his side and then push him onto his back and begin chest compressions after checking for a pulse.
After emergency medical workers respond, the first officer explains that they administered Narcan, which can reverse overdoses. “He went from combative to nonresponsive almost immediately,” he says.
Several experts testified during Mr. Chauvin’s trial that the prone position was dangerous because it could impair breathing and that officers should put people they are detaining onto their sides as quickly as possible.
The three officers put on leave were Eric McKinley, Cameron Leahy and James Fisher, a city spokeswoman said on Tuesday. When asked for more details about the death of Mr. Gonzalez, she pointed to the Police Department’s previous news releases about the encounter.
Although Derek Chauvin has opted not to testify in his defense against charges that he murdered George Floyd, police officers have taken the stand in their own defense. The results have been mixed. Here are a few examples:
Jason Van Dyke, on trial in Chicago in 2018 for the murder of Laquan McDonald, gave testimony that some said dehumanized the victim. “His face had no expression,” Mr. Van Dyke said of Mr. McDonald. “His eyes were just bugging out of his head. He had these huge white eyes just staring right through me.”
His account contradicted the video. “The video doesn’t show my perspective,” he told the jury.
Outcome: Convicted of murder, sentenced to nearly 7 years.
Mohamed Noor, on trial in Minneapolis in 2019 for the murder of Justine Ruszczyk, who had called 911 to report hearing a potential sexual assault, described his anguish after learning that he had shot an unarmed resident. “It felt like my whole world came crashing down,” he said.
On cross-examination, he was forced to admit that he had never seen Ms. Ruszczyk’s hands. “I had to make a split-second decision,” he said.
Outcome: Convicted of murder, sentenced to 12 years.
Michael Slager, on trial in Charleston, S.C., in 2016 for the murder of Walter L. Scott as he fled from a traffic stop, told the jury that he had nightmares after the shooting. “I fired until the threat was stopped, like I’m trained to do,” he said.
Outcome: Hung jury. Mr. Slager pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights violation and was sentenced to 20 years.
Betty Jo Shelby, on trial in Tulsa, Okla., in 2017 for the shooting death of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed driver, said she did what she was trained to do if she believed someone had a gun.
“I have all the indications that he has a gun,” she said. “I do not pull a Taser out, which is less lethal. I meet a gun with a gun.”
Jeronimo Yanez, on trial in St. Paul, Minn., in 2017 for the shooting death of a motorist, Philando Castile, said he feared for his life.
“I had no other choice. I was forced to engage Mr. Castile. He was not complying with my directions,” Mr. Yanez said. Mr. Yanez was on the lookout for suspects in an armed robbery, and said that Mr. Castile “gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look. It’s a trigger.”
Shaila Dewan and Tim Arango
This article originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News
For the past four weeks, a group of up to 40 protesters has gathered outside the Collin County Jail nearly every night around 9 p.m. They hang signs, draw on the sidewalk with chalk and decorate the chain link fence, celebrating the life of Marvin Scott III, who died while in the custody of jail staff in March.
Consistently, their memorials have been taken down by county staff. But that doesn’t deter his sister, LaChay Batts, from returning every day with other community members outside the jail in McKinney.
“We just do it again,” Batts, 28, told the Tribune Sunday, her voice hoarse from chanting all day. “They want us to stop, to go away. We’re gonna remain until the officers are arrested.”
On March 14, Scott was arrested in Allen, nearly 15 miles from where he lived in Frisco, on a marijuana charge. Authorities said he had less than two ounces — a misdemeanor. The 26-year-old, who received a schizophrenia diagnosis two years ago, sometimes used the drug to self-medicate, according to the family’s lawyer, S. Lee Merritt.
After Allen officers transported him to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital for what police called “strange behavior,” he was taken to the county jail. There, officers restrained Scott, used pepper spray and covered his head with a spit hood, a controversial device meant to keep a person from biting or spitting on an officer. Scott became unresponsive late that night and was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Though seven of the sheriff’s officers have been fired after initially being put on administrative leave and another resigned while under investigation, the family and protesters say they don’t plan to stop until the officers have been charged with a crime. The officers’ names have not been publicly released. The Collin County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the jail, said personnel information cannot be released due to pending civil service appeals.
The Texas Rangers are investigating Scott’s case. Nearly a month later, the county medical examiner’s office has not yet released an official cause of death.
The family hired a forensic pathologist to conduct a second, independent autopsy. During the March 23 press conference, the pathologist, Amy Gruszecki of American Forensics, said: “The physical struggle of the restraint as well as the possible asphyxia from the restraint would likely be causes of his death, and a negative autopsy, meaning no injuries, no blunt force trauma, is consistent with that.”
During the press conference, Merritt said the Collin County district attorney had explained that he would need a cause of death and a medical examiner’s report before he could decide whether to pursue criminal charges.
There has been an intense focus on police brutality during the murder and manslaughter trial for Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, accused of killing George Floyd in late May by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes — which sparked protests around the nation. And on Sunday, police deployed tear gas against protesters who marched after an officer fatally shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Minnesota.
Scott’s family said they did not receive any communication about his arrest and death until the next afternoon, when they received a text message from the medical examiner’s office. Batts said the family has not yet seen the jail video related to his death. The footage has been provided to the Texas Rangers, said a representative from the Collin County Sheriff’s Office.
Following a March 17 vigil at Towne Lake Park in McKinney, Batts and her family have stood outside the jail almost every night in hopes of calling attention to Scott’s death and to demand justice and transparency. They hand out flyers during the protests, Batts said, and post about the rallies on social media.
What started as a group of up to 40 people has since settled to about 20 consistent protesters, said Elizabeth Michel, a community activist who joined the protests soon after learning about them online. She has been there almost every day since and has addressed the McKinney City Council and the county commissioner’s court.
“My role is to support the Scott family and to amplify their voices however I can,” Michel said. “The family has asked for those eight detention officers to be arrested. I will do whatever I can to expedite that.”
Protesting for arrests, transparency
Batts said speakers like herself and her family share stories about her brother and list their demands during the protests.
“Today marks 30 days since Marvin was murdered, and we still haven’t seen the tape. We still don’t know the names of these officers,” Batts said on Sunday. “[They] could be our neighbors, and we don’t know.”
For the first few nights, the protesters congregated near where inmates are brought into the jail. A week later, they arrived to find a new chain link fence surrounding their former protesting grounds, Michel said.
So they began decorating the fence with cups that spelled out Scott’s name or “Justice for Marvin,” and placing flowers and teddy bears nearby — only to see everything removed every night. Last week, the fence was moved even further from the building to keep protesters away from the staff parking lot as well.
A spokesperson told the Tribune in an email that the sheriff’s office respects the right to peacefully protest and established a zone to do so. There have been “some instances of vandalism and property destruction” though the protests have been peaceful, the spokesperson said.
In addition to physical barriers, Michel said that several sheriff’s office vehicles have circled the area and flashed the high beams of their headlights on the group. At one point, sheriff’s employees told protesters they were unlawfully assembled, she said.
“There’s a big sign on the fence that says designated protest,” Michel said. “I’m like, ‘You told us to be here, and now you’re telling us to move again.’”
“They definitely didn’t expect us to still be out there,” she added. “They expected this to die down and go away. And we’re not.”
For Black community members, family is at stake
Kamona Nelson, one of Batts’ hairstyling clients, said that while she never met Scott, she knows through his sister that he had a happy spirit. The 39-year-old said she has been protesting with the family since the first day, only missing a few nights here and there.
“I have two Black sons,” she said. “Not only am I standing for the family, but I’m standing for my kids.”
Nelson said her family moved to McKinney more than three years ago, and she said she was shocked to hear negative things about Collin County law enforcement after hearing that the city was one of the top places to live in the state.
A few years before, in 2015, McKinney police responded to a report of teenagers scaling a fence to enter a private pool party. An officer pointed a gun at the teens and detained a Black girl by throwing her to the ground and pressing his knee into her back. She was ultimately released back to her parents with no charge filed. The incident sparked national outrage and prompted additional protests on its five-year anniversary.
Nelson said that when they first moved to McKinney, three police officers stopped one of her sons, then 15, as he walked home because he happened to fit the description of someone “tall, big and Black” that they were looking for, she said, though they eventually let him go.
Nelson has brought her sons, now 15 and 17, to the protests a few times, and said the experience has been “surreal” for them — she said her boys were shocked that an incident like this could happen so close to home. Nelson said she has had a very different experience standing with her friend’s family compared to when she marched for George Floyd last summer, where she never had any interactions with police.
“It seems like there is a lot of injustice, as if we are doing something wrong,” she said of the way officers have treated protesters. “That, I don’t understand — why the family is being treated the way that they are.”
Batts said having Nelson and so many other community members stand with her family has given her family strength.
While the protests cannot bring Scott back, Batts said they will continue to protest “so this doesn’t have to be somebody else’s brother.”
SEATTLE — When a U.S. Marshals task force killed a self-described antifa activist in Washington State in September, the Trump administration applauded the removal of a “violent agitator” who was suspected of murder. Last week, local investigators concluded a monthslong homicide inquiry with the announcement that the activist, Michael Reinoehl, had most likely fired at authorities first, effectively justifying the shooting.
But a review of investigation documents obtained by The New York Times suggests that investigators for the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office discounted key pieces of contradicting evidence that indicate Mr. Reinoehl may never have fired or pointed a gun.
While investigators found a spent bullet casing in the back seat of Mr. Reinoehl’s car, and pointed to that as evidence he probably fired his weapon, the handgun they recovered from Mr. Reinoehl had a full magazine, according to multiple photos compiled by Thurston County authorities showing Mr. Reinoehl’s handgun. The gun was found in his pocket.
The federally organized task force, made up primarily of local law enforcement officers from Washington, had been seeking to arrest Mr. Reinoehl for the Aug. 29 shooting death of a supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer during the summer’s raucous street protests over race and policing. The arrest operation quickly erupted into gunfire, and Mr. Reinoehl died in the street near his car in a residential neighborhood in Lacey, Wash.
The sheriff’s office in Thurston County, where the shooting occurred, was not part of the task force.
In announcing its conclusions, the sheriff’s office wrote that “witness statements indicate there was an exchange of gunfire, which was initiated by Reinoehl from inside his vehicle.” A spokesman, Lt. Cameron Simper, said that while investigators could not conclude for certain that Mr. Reinoehl had fired his weapon, he said it was “highly likely.”
But one of the witnesses that Thurston County investigators relied on to reach their conclusion that Mr. Reinoehl had fired his gun was an 8-year-old boy. His father, Garrett Louis, who had rushed to his son’s side at the time of the shooting, has consistently said he believed that officers opened fire first without shouting any warnings.
Of the two other witnesses who investigators cited to support the conclusion that Mr. Reinoehl fired his gun, one did not see it happen and the other was not sure.
Fred Langer, a lawyer representing Mr. Reinoehl’s family, said the law enforcement conclusions defy common sense.
“They are covering for themselves,” Mr. Langer said. “The physical evidence doesn’t support what they are saying.”
Mr. Reinoehl had been a consistent fixture at racial justice protests in Portland, Ore., last summer, carrying a gun as a volunteer security officer among the protesters and writing online that the protests were part of a war with the potential to “fix everything.” On Aug. 29, when a caravan of Trump supporters drove into downtown Portland, clashing with left-wing activists, Mr. Reinoehl was on the streets.
Video footage shot by bystanders appears to show that Mr. Reinoehl approached Aaron J. Danielson, the Patriot Prayer supporter, as Mr. Danielson walked through the area with a can of bear repellent and an expandable baton. Mr. Reinoehl appears to have shot Mr. Danielson, killing him, before running into the night. He later claimed in an interview with Vice News that he had fired in self-defense.
Five days after the shooting, Portland police issued a warrant for Mr. Reinoehl’s arrest on suspicion of murder. The Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force, whose local law enforcement officers were deputized as federal marshals, traced Mr. Reinoehl’s path up to Washington State and prepared a plan to take him into custody.
The investigation by Thurston County investigators that was obtained by The Times provided key new details, including witness statements, from their monthslong inquiry into the events preceding Mr. Reinoehl’s death.
Officers believed that Mr. Reinoehl had a .380-caliber handgun, an AR-style rifle and a shotgun, according to the accounts they gave to investigators. They said they had received information — apparently from an informant — that Mr. Reinoehl had said he would not be taken alive. Officers described their concern that Mr. Reinoehl was associated with “antifa,” the loose network of activists who have mobilized to confront far-right groups and protest law enforcement violence.
On Sept. 3, the officers took up surveillance positions near the apartment where Mr. Reinoehl was staying, according to their statements. Once on the scene, their chosen radio frequency only worked for a few officers, leaving the others unable to communicate.
Just before 7 p.m., the team watched as Mr. Reinoehl exited the apartment and headed toward his vehicle. Sgt. Erik Clarkson of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, a senior officer on the scene, told the others “to let him drive if no one was close enough to interdict him,” but his command was not heard as a result of the radio problem, according to his statement.
Officer Michael Merrill of the Lakewood Police Department decided to move in, and gunned his Ford Escape toward Mr. Reinoehl’s parked Volkswagen Jetta.
No video has emerged to show what transpired next, and a murky mix of sometimes contradictory information has been used to explain it. None of the officers wore a body camera, nor were cameras mounted on their vehicles. One of the officers on the scene, a deputy U.S. marshal named Ryan Kimmel who did not fire his weapon, declined to provide a statement during the investigation.
James Oleole, a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy in the passenger seat of Officer Merrill’s Ford Escape, said that as law enforcement vehicles pulled up and officers announced themselves, Mr. Reinoehl was in the driver’s seat of his Jetta and made moves with his arms “consistent with the moves that someone makes when they are attempting to grab a gun they have on their person.”
Although he did not see a gun, Deputy Oleole said, he began firing his AR-15 rifle through his own windshield at Mr. Reinoehl. Officer Merrill, thinking the glass shards from the windshield meant he was under fire, exited the Ford Escape, saw what he believed was Mr. Reinoehl reaching for a gun, and also opened fire. A third officer, also from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, had followed the others in an S.U.V. and blocked Mr. Reinoehl’s Jetta from an angle. Also believing that Mr. Reinoehl was reaching for a gun, he opened fire with his 9-millimeter handgun.
As the officers unleashed a hail of bullets, a total of 40 in all, Mr. Reinoehl exited the Jetta, shielding himself, and ran for cover behind a truck parked behind him. The three officers reported that he was continuously reaching around his waistband or pocket. A Washington State Department of Corrections officer, who had arrived in a third vehicle, saw Mr. Reinoehl round the rear of the truck and begin to pull “a small dark item” from his pocket. That officer also fired, and Mr. Reinoehl fell.
Although no officer said Mr. Reinoehl shot at them, and only one described him raising something that might have been a gun, investigators concluded that Mr. Reinoehl had most likely fired a shot — pointing to a spent shell casing they found in the back seat of the Jetta that matched the .380-caliber handgun found in his pocket.
Investigators never found a bullet matching it amid the dozens sprayed around the scene, and all of the gunshots that pierced the Jetta’s front windshield were determined to be incoming rounds fired by officers. Lieutenant Simper of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office said it was possible that Mr. Reinoehl fired through an open passenger-side window.
The final report also does not address the fact that the handgun’s six-round magazine was still full when officers recovered it. Lieutenant Simper said it was possible that Mr. Reinoehl had loaded an extra round in the chamber before firing and that the gun had malfunctioned and failed to load a round from the magazine after he took a shot.
To reach their conclusion that Mr. Reinoehl fired his gun, investigators also cited the accounts of three witnesses. One of them, Chad Smith, had initially told journalists that he saw Mr. Reinoehl shooting at officers but later said he did not see Mr. Reinoehl shooting. He reported to investigators that he believed that Mr. Reinoehl shot first because the first shot he heard sounded less powerful than later ones.
Another witness told investigators he believed there was an exchange of gunfire. The man, who asked not to be identified publicly, said in an interview on Friday that he could not be sure Mr. Reinoehl had fired a weapon.
Mr. Louis’s 8-year-old son told officers that Mr. Reinoehl was shooting at the agents. But when asked what kind of gun Mr. Reinoehl fired, he described it as “big” and “two-handed,” a description that did not match Mr. Reinoehl’s pocket-size handgun.
Mr. Louis said his children were taught that police officers were “heroes” but that the investigator who interviewed his son had phrased his questions in a way that prompted the boy to say that Mr. Reinoehl had fired his weapon.
“He initially told me for the first 24 hours that he didn’t know that guy had a weapon,” he said.
Austin police officers are some of the emergency responders you’re most likely to interact with each day, but a KXAN Investigation found less than half of them have been vaccinated against COVID-19 through the city’s Public Safety Wellness Center. Those vaccines have been available for months. Officers may have received vaccinations elsewhere, but the city hasn’t tracked those numbers. We found other Texas cities’ first responder vaccination rates are also incomplete or aren’t tracked at all.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — Ken Casaday was one of the first Austin police officers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. A Facebook post from Dec. 23 of last year shows him rolling up the sleeve of his uniform as a healthcare worker gave him his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
The Austin Police Association President called it an important day for him. Now fully vaccinated, he’s planning a summer trip to Hawaii.
“I’m looking forward to getting out and traveling,” he said. “Being safe but still getting out and living my life.”
Casaday says the signup process for officers was cut-and-dry.
“Officers were allowed to sign up,” he said. “And I think everyone that has wanted to be vaccinated has been vaccinated.”
APD tells us the vaccine had been offered to all its officers, primarily through the Austin Public Safety Wellness Center. The organization is funded in part by the city and provides resources for Austin first responders including physical fitness support, mental health care and vaccinations.
We asked Casaday whether the vaccine has been widely available to officers, and he told us: “I had no officers complaining they could not get a vaccine.”
But despite that access, approximately 49% of APD officers are vaccinated, according to the department. The number doesn’t include officers who may have gotten vaccinated on their own, data the city or Austin Police don’t keep.
Vaccines offered, but a personal choice
An Austin Police Department spokesperson told us the department operates as a POD, or Point of Dispensing, under the authority of Austin Public Health. Vaccinations have been offered on a five-day-per-week schedule with blocks of appointments every 30 minutes, he said.
“[We’ve] done our best to schedule employees as conveniently as we can for their work schedule,” said the spokesperson.
We asked the department whether it encourages its employees to get the vaccine.
“We do not attempt in any way to influence the decision our officers make regarding the vaccine beyond supplying appropriate information about the vaccines that are currently available,” the spokesperson said. “We make the opportunity available for getting vaccinated and leave it up to the officers to register and receive an appointment.”
Casaday says he has spoken to dozens of officers about his vaccine experience. He says there is hesitation among some in the department but he strongly believes it’s a personal choice.
“I think it’s just not trusting a vaccine that came out over a short period of time or what they perceive as a short period of time,” he said. “I don’t necessarily agree with it, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s none of my business.”
This week, KXAN Investigator Kevin Clark asked Public Safety Commissioner Rebecca Webber about APD’s vaccination numbers and if the city is considering those numbers when it looks at the bigger police picture.
Webber brought the issue up at the commission’s meeting this week, asking APD leadership to see first responder vaccination rates presented in quarterly reports moving forward.
“Particularly, I’m concerned about sworn [employees] because I have this sense they interact with the public more often,” she said during Monday’s meeting. “I would suggest that it should be another metric we track.”
A look at other Texas cities
KXAN reached out to other police departments in other large Texas cities to ask about vaccination rates for their officers but learned it’s not always easy to get precise numbers.
The San Antonio Police Department says just under 50% of its officers had been vaccinated, a number similar to APD’s. SAPD says the numbers are from the end of January and could not provide more recent data. A department spokesperson says SAPD is not offering vaccination incentives but does have officers who work as liaisons to help with signups and operates a 24-hour COVID hotline for officers that are requesting information on COVID vaccine locations.
Both Dallas and Fort Worth Police tell us they don’t keep a strict count. A spokesperson for Dallas PD said “a large number of officers” received their vaccines at the Dallas Convention Center.
Fort Worth PD says its count is based on voluntary reporting only. The department tells us about 20% of both officers and non-sworn employees have completed the survey noting they have been vaccinated.
“We have coordinated with Tarrant County Health and opened a vaccination clinic on our main campus,” said a Fort Worth PD spokesperson in an email. “We have sent out numerous emails to remind staff of the dates and times for the clinic, encouraging them to get the vaccination and providing up-to-date information on both COVID and the vaccination.”
The Houston Police Department told us to file a public information request for its officers’ vaccination numbers, and we are waiting on a response.
EMS, fire have higher vaccination rates
Compare the publicly available numbers of the Austin Police Department and other emergency responders in the city, and it shows officers may have a lower vaccination rate.
The Austin Fire Department says 65% of its employees are vaccinated. That includes about 60% of sworn and 95% of non-sworn employees.
When we asked about incentives for getting the vaccine, AFD tells us the city is covering vaccine side effects as an on-the-job illness. KXAN hasn’t been able to confirm if the same applies to APD. An AFD spokesperson told us vaccinated firefighters who have high-risk COVID-19 exposures at work are not required to quarantine, as long as they test negative.
Austin-Travis County EMS says 86% of its sworn employees are vaccinated and the others are still able to do so through the Austin Public Safety Wellness Center. EMS says its non-sworn employees are also eligible for the shots, but the vaccination rates for those employees were not available.
Marvin Scott III was inside a sprawling outlet mall in Allen last month when police searched him and allegedly found less than 2 ounces of marijuana. They arrested him and eventually took him to the local jail.
Hours later, the 26-year-old was dead.
Now, seven Collin County detention officers have been fired for their role in allegedly restraining Scott, blasting him with pepper spray and placing a hood over his head as he suffered through what his family has described as a mental health emergency. An investigation found the officers had violated policies and procedures, Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner said Thursday.
A lawyer representing Scott’s family called for the officers to face criminal charges in the case, which the Texas Rangers are investigating.
Many police departments nationwide have stopped making arrests for small amounts of marijuana, a policy already held by several forces around Dallas and adopted by another area agency this week in the wake of Scott’s death.
Like Prude, Scott also had mental illness that frequently put him in contact with local police. Scott had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, his family said, and in the past, police had taken him to get medical care when he had a crisis.
On March 14, Scott once again ended up in police custody, this time after he was observed acting strangely in the Allen Premium Outlets, a mall in suburban Dallas, and then allegedly found with a small amount of marijuana. Police initially took him to a hospital, Merritt said, but unlike in previous cases, they then took him to the Collin County Jail instead of a local mental health center.
He was booked into the jail around 6:40 p.m., Skinner said at a news conference. According to Merritt, he was put into a cell with eight other people, but later moved into an isolation cell. When the jail staff feared that he might hurt himself, they sent in seven officers to restrain him, Merritt said.
Video of the encounter shows one officer applying an “illegal choke hold” as the others fought to tie down his arms, Merritt alleged.
Skinner confirmed that video was taken of the struggle and said the officers used pepper spray once and restrained Scott in a bed. He declined to discuss any other details about the video recording, pending the ongoing investigation.
At 10:22 p.m., the sheriff said, Scott became unresponsive on the restraining bed. He was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“As you might imagine, I was brokenhearted to learn that someone had died in our custody,” Skinner said days later, calling his death a “tragedy.”
Seven detention officers — a captain, a lieutenant, two sergeants and three officers, none of whom have been named — were suspended while the sheriff conducted an internal investigation. On Thursday, Skinner announced that they had been fired and said an eighth officer had resigned as a result of the probe.
“Evidence I have seen confirms that these detention officers violated well-established Sheriff’s Office policies and procedures,” Skinner said in a statement shared with The Washington Post. “Everyone in Collin County deserves safe and fair treatment, including those in custody at our jail. I will not tolerate less.”
Merritt praised the move but also pushed for a full accounting of what happened — and criminal charges against those responsible.
“We are pleased with this decision and consider this progress, the first step of many more to come,” he said in a statement to WFAA-TV. “Next, these former officers need to be arrested and brought to justice.”
Seven sheriff’s officers in Collin County, Texas, were fired on Thursday in connection with the death of Marvin D. Scott III, a 26-year-old Black man who died after being restrained at the county jail last month.
“Evidence I have seen confirms that these detention officers violated well-established Sheriff’s Office policies and procedures,” Jim Skinner, the sheriff, said in a statement, adding that an eighth officer had resigned.
The police in Allen, Texas, just north of Dallas, arrested Mr. Scott on a marijuana possession charge on March 14. He had less than two ounces of the drug, according to the authorities — a misdemeanor.
The police said they had taken Mr. Scott to a hospital because he was acting erratically. He was then taken to the county jail, where county officers restrained him and pepper-sprayed him. A spit hood was placed over his head. He died later that night.
Every evening for more than two weeks, members of Mr. Scott’s family have been gathering to protest outside the Collin County Jail, demanding transparency and accountability.
“We want to know, how did my son die?” Mr. Scott’s mother, LaSandra Scott, said at a news conference last week, according to NBC 5. “We want answers.”
Mr. Scott had a schizophrenia diagnosis and sometimes used marijuana as a form of self-medication when his prescription medication did not work well, according to S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer representing the family.
Amy Gruszecki, a forensic pathologist who performed a second autopsy on Mr. Scott after his body was examined by the Collin County medical examiner, said at the news conference that according to her preliminary findings, it was possible that asphyxiation, as well as a physical struggle against his restraint, might have contributed to Mr. Scott’s death.
The county medical examiner did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday. Mr. Merritt said the county’s autopsy results had yet to be released.
The officers who were fired on Thursday had been placed on administrative leave after Mr. Scott’s death. The sheriff’s office opened an internal investigation into the episode, and the Texas Rangers, a state law enforcement agency, is conducting a criminal investigation.
Mr. Merritt said the family was asking for the officers involved to be arrested and for the release of security camera footage from the jail on the night of Mr. Scott’s death.
“They laid Marvin to rest on the 30th, just a couple days ago,” he said. “The family continues to protest every night along with other members of the community.”
At a March 19 news conference, Sheriff Skinner called Mr. Scott’s death a tragedy and said he had met with Mr. Scott’s relatives.
According to a statement from the Allen Police Department, police officers encountered Mr. Scott on March 14 while responding to a disturbance call at an outlet mall and “were concerned for his safety due to the possible ingestion of drugs.”
Mr. Scott was taken to an emergency room, where he remained for three hours before being released with a physician’s clearance, the police statement said. It added that he had been taken to the Police Headquarters in Allen before being transferred to the Collin County Jail in McKinney.
Sheriff Skinner said that the police had taken Mr. Scott to the county jail shortly before 6:30 p.m. “While in the booking area, Mr. Scott exhibited some strange behavior,” he said. “Several detention officers tried to secure him to the restraint bed, and during the process used O.C. spray once, and also placed a spit mask on his face.”
O.C. spray — its formal name is oleoresin capsicum — can also be referred to as pepper spray. Sheriff Skinner described a spit mask as “a mask that fits over one’s head. It has a net on it in order to keep spittle from being spit on another person.”
The sheriff said that Mr. Scott had become unresponsive around 10:30. He added that the Texas Rangers, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday evening, were examining video footage of the episode.
WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The production company behind the now-canceled law enforcement reality show ‘Live PD’ is suing the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office and the Austin Police Department, saying its footage of the Javier Ambler arrest was unlawfully confiscated by the agencies at the scene.
The company, Big Fish Entertainment, also claims its name was smeared in the process of the investigation by the Williamson County and Travis County district attorney offices.
Almost two years ago to the date, Williamson County deputies tried to pull over Ambler for failing to dim his headlights. The chase ended within Austin city limits, and Austin police officers responded. Deputies deployed their tasers on Ambler, and body cam footage shows him telling them he couldn’t breathe.
Live PD crews were there to film. Ambler died about an hour later at the hospital.
Alleged ‘unconstitutional’ taking of footage
Big Fish says once Ambler became non-responsive, camera crews stopped filming. WCSO and APD then set up a crime scene with police tape.
“On information and belief, WCSO and APD then took the extraordinary step of jointly seizing the production crew’s cameras and footage of the incident that the crew had left in WCSO squad cars,” the lawsuit reads.
“WCSO did not have a warrant, a subpoena or even probable cause to believe that any of the Live PD crew had committed or was committing a criminal offense,” it goes on to say.
Big Fish claims crews weren’t allowed to access their cameras, belongings or footage in the cruisers for the next hour. They did finally get ahold of the footage, but Live PD chose not to air it.
“Big Fish brings this action to redress the patently illegal and unconstitutional seizure of its footage at the scene of Mr. Ambler’s tragic death,” the lawsuit reads.
The production company claims this taking of the footage hurt them in more ways than one. Big Fish says this pushed a false narrative that WCSO owned the footage and placed blame on Big Fish for allegedly “stonewalling” the investigation.
The lawsuit names the Travis County District Attorney’s Office in pushing this narrative, as well as Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick. Big Fish claims the district attorneys only really started looking into Ambler’s death a year later, after protests broke out across the country surrounding the deaths of Black people at the hands of police brutality.
No subpoena in year following Ambler’s death
Big Fish claims in the year following Ambler’s death, neither Williamson County nor Travis County served the company with a subpoena for the footage. A court order was not filed either, according to the company.
Citing its original agreement with Williamson County for filming the show, Big Fish says it was the “sole and exclusive owner” of the footage and that unaired/raw footage would be destroyed within 30 days unless a court order was issued.
Big Fish says WCSO and APD didn’t even need to confiscate the footage at all, since body and dash cameras from their own officers were recording the incident.
The company is suing for reputational damages.
KXAN has reached out to both the City of Austin and Williamson County for comment on the suit.
Williamson County responded, “Williamson County does not comment on current or pending litigation.”
We have not yet received a response from Austin and will update this story when we get one.
In addition to WCSO and APD, Big Fish is also suing Williamson County Lieutenant James David, five unidentified Williamson County deputies and five unidentified APD officers with the lawsuit.
Last year, Ambler’s family also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Williamson County and the deputies involved. The family claims that WCSO pressured deputies to provide more entertaining footage for the Live PD cameras.
Also last year, Williamson County Commissioners Court voted to end its own lawsuit against Big Fish. The county claimed the company filmed inside its jurisdiction after its contract was ended by commissioners.
In the Texas House, a proposed bill that arose out of Ambler’s case is still pending. It was discussed Thursday for about 15 minutes. The bill was filed by Williamson County Democrat Rep. James Talarico and would outlaw reality television crews from working with Texas law enforcement.
The Texas House’s George Floyd Act is a sweeping police reform bill, named after a Black man killed by a white Minneapolis police officer last year, that would in part ban chokeholds and require officers to intervene if their partner is using excessive force. The longtime lawmaker who wrote it presented it as a measure to end systemic racism and protect Texans from police brutality.
But at the center of debate over the bill Thursday was an existing legal shield that protects officers from lawsuits when they’re accused of violating someone’s state constitutional rights. Police officials lamented that House Bill 88 could remove that protection, called qualified immunity. Bill author state Rep. Senfronia Thompson remained adamant that the measure is key to the legislation.
“This bill is not about punishing the good cops. There are many of them out there and we are thankful for their service,” the Houston Democrat told the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. “This bill is about preserving the sanctity of life.”
The qualified immunity measure is a piece of the bill that multiple lawmakers have pegged as a sticking point in the Republican-led Legislature, a point that was spotlighted Thursday as passions rose in support and opposition of it.
“Qualified immunity is a loophole for police officers, but victims have no loophole. This has got to stop,” said Marian Tolan, whose son, Robbie, ultimately won a drawn-out legal fight against qualified immunity after being shot in front of his home by Bellaire officers in 2008.
“This bill must pass and qualified immunity needs to stay in it,” Tolan told lawmakers.
Police officials were the main opponents of removing qualified immunity, a court-established protection intended to prevent government employees from frivolous litigation. Their opposition to that measure came even while some accepted other provisions of the bill, like implementing a statewide policy on police force. Union leaders argued Thursday that removing qualified immunity would prompt police to quit in droves and put all blame on individual officers for any wrongdoing, even if officers were following policies enacted at the city level.
“I don’t see anything in here that says the mayor is going to suddenly be responsible for action,” said Charley Wilkison, the executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. “This is going to be aimed at the shift worker.”
After more than six hours of testimony from the dozens of people Thursday — the vast majority of whom supported HB 88 — lawmakers left the matter pending without voting on the bill.
A spokesperson for the governor did not respond to a question about HB 88 Thursday.
Until the recently renewed nationwide criticism of American policing and its disproportionate harm against Black people, qualified immunity garnered little public attention. But its use has long been prevalent in the courts.
Last month, a conservative federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit against two Texas police officers, citing qualified immunity. That suit stemmed from a 2017 incident during which Arlington police officers responded to a mental health crisis and encountered a suicidal man who had doused himself in gasoline. The officers acknowledged that Gabriel Eduardo Olivas could be set ablaze with electricity, but they tased him anyway. Olivas was engulfed in flames and died several days later.
Olivas’ family had turned to the civil courts, arguing the officers violated his constitutional rights, as the officers faced no criminal charges and the Arlington Police Department defended them.
The U.S. Supreme Court created qualified immunity protections about 50 years ago, and it has been used in recent years to block thousands of lawsuits seeking to hold police accountable in cases where they are accused of excessive force, according to a Reuters investigation.
To move forward with a civil rights violation lawsuit against a police officer, courts must first decide if there is enough evidence to prove that officers used unconstitutional force against a person. If a judge rules the action was likely excessive force, the court must then find that officers should have known they were breaking clearly established law, meaning another court had already found similar police actions were illegal. The hurdles have been labeled by qualified immunity critics as a Catch-22 and nearly impossible to overcome.
“What qualified immunity is, and why everyone is outraged, is because even if your constitutional rights are violated, qualified immunity still exists” Arif Panju, the managing attorney for the Institute for Justice in Texas, told lawmakers.
With notable pushback to completely removing qualified immunity protections for officers, Panju suggested taking liability off the individual and placing it on the employer, who would then have a financial incentive to hire the best people, he said.
“If I get hit by a UPS driver, I’m not suing the driver, I’m suing UPS,” he said.
Last year, Floyd’s death prompted national protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Since then, multiple state legislatures and the U.S. Congress have pushed for police reforms in Floyd’s name. A congressional bill, which has passed the House but appears stalled in the Senate, would also change federal qualified immunity and make it easier to prosecute officers accused of wrongdoing.
Kevin Lawrence, who leads the Texas Municipal Police Association, said the Washington D.C., legislation has already prompted officers to leave the law enforcement profession.
“It’s really hard to imagine that our difficulties recruiting and retaining officers could get any worse than it could now,” he said. “Getting rid of qualified immunity would make it exponentially worse.”
But Thompson, the Houston Democrat, held firm on her bill’s language, telling reporters Thursday evening that police officials will always find something on police reforms to oppose.
“Qualified immunity is a problem, we need to keep it in the bill,” she said.