A woman who a year ago beat a DWI charge is now going after police who she says used excessive force in her 2013 arrest.
Caroline Callaway, 26, is asking a jury in federal civil court this week to award her an undisclosed amount of money for costs related to two elbow surgeries she says she had as a result of an officer jerking her arms while her hands were cuffed. She’s seeking further damages for mental anguish, asserting that because an officer applied a choke hold that restricted her breathing and covered her face with a mask used to prevent biting and spitting, she now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I was suffocating,” Callaway testified. “I couldn’t breathe. I was having an anxiety attack and I was shaking.”
She added, “I thought I was dying.”
The city of Austin is a defendant in the lawsuit along with Adam Johnson and Patrick Oborski of the Austin Police Department. Travis County is also a defendant because the alleged incident happened at the the county jail.
The defendants have not asked asked the plaintiff how much money she is seeking. However, Callaway testified she raised more than $7,000 for medical costs through a Gofundme account. She said money is not her primary motivation for the lawsuit, but that “I don’t want this to happen to anyone ever again.”
Oborski, who arrested Callaway on Feb. 4, 2013, said she hurled profane insults and refused to cooperate with officers at the jail even after a judge issued a warrant to draw blood to test for alcohol. The arrest came on a no-refusal weekend.
Oborski testified that it took four people at the jail to hold down the plaintiff, who he said “thrashed around” so violently that the chair she was in started to lift from the ground.
“She was the most vile, uncooperative, mean person I’ve ever come across in the jail,” Oborski said.
Because Callaway waited two years after the arrest to file the suit, attorneys for the county said video of the incident is no longer available.
However, the jury did see video of the arrest that shows Callaway cursing at Oborski from the back of his police vehicle. He pulled over her car heading north on Lamar Boulevard because he said Callaway ran two red lights after leaving a Sixth Street bar about 1:30 a.m. The officer found jars with marijuana in the car.
Callaway, who at the time was taking classes at the Univeristy of Texas, was acquitted of a DWI charge by a jury in April 2015. Though her blood-alcohol level, 0.137, was well above the legal limit of 0.08, her attorney argued that her blood sample could have been contaminated because officers did not seal the tubes.
Two years earlier, Callaway was arrested and convicted of DWI after she rolled a car.
Attorneys for the defendant are painting the plaintiff as unstable, noting that two days after the arrest her mother called police saying Callaway threatened to choke her. Attorneys told the jury that 55 doctors have treated the woman for various mental and health issues.
Attorneys contend that bruises Callaway presented as evidence could have come from sources other than the officers, pointing out that a mark under her chin that she says came from a choke hold was not visible in her booking photo.
A hand doctor who did surgeries on Callaway’s elbows said a therapist working with Callaway said the woman ignored an exercise program that could have prevented surgery. The doctor also said he was surprised when Callaway approached him within the past year requesting surgery.