- Tony Plohetski American-Statesman Staff, KVUE News
Austin teacher Breaion King, whose violent arrest received national attention last month and led to several ongoing internal police investigations, sued the city and an officer Tuesday, claiming her damages “are most probably in excess of a million dollars.”
Police dashboard camera videos showed an officer dragging King out of her car and throwing her to the ground during a confrontation that unfolded quickly after she was pulled over for speeding.
The 11-page suit filed in U.S. District Court includes a number of standard claims involving use-of-force cases, but it also makes additional allegations: that King and her lawyers asked to meet with city officials, including Mayor Steve Adler, after the matter became public, but received no reply.
King’s request was an effort “to open a dialogue regarding not only her claim, but also seeking to discuss ways to repair the relationship between the police department and citizens they serve, through policy changes or other means,” the suit said. “At the time of the filing of this complaint, neither plaintiff nor her attorney have received a response from Mayor Adler or any representative of the city.”
Adler spokesman Jason Stanford told the American-Statesman that his office received a request to meet with King’s attorneys and that the mayor’s chief of staff left a message with the law firm that wasn’t returned.
“We are still happy to discuss this as a civic issue, but of course we can’t discuss the legal issue,” Stanford said.
Adler has previously said the case alarmed him and that “we can’t un-see the videos, and nor should we. But we can continue to work together to build a community that treats everyone with respect. We as community will get it done.”
The suit contends officer Bryan Richter used excessive force when he stopped King in June 2015 for speeding along East Riverside Drive and that the department poorly trains its officers in how to handle such situations.
The Statesman first reported the incident last month after obtaining video from Richter’s patrol car. King initially got out of her car when Richter stopped her, and he ordered her back inside. Richter then instructed King to put her legs and feet back in the car and to close the door.
“Less than 10 seconds elapsed between Officer’s Richter’s first request for Plaintiff to put her legs in the car and his decision to rip her out of the vehicle forcefully,” the suit said. “Less than one minute elapsed between Officer Richter’s first words to (King) and his decision to use force.”
Richter is seen on video throwing King to the ground twice as she yelled, “Oh my God, why are you doing this to me?”
Minutes later, as King was being taken to jail, officer Patrick Spradlin and King discussed race relations and interactions between police and African-Americans. Spradlin is heard on video saying that blacks have “violent tendencies” and that he can understand why many whites fear them.
“Some of them, because of their appearance and whatnot, some of them are very intimidating,” Spradlin said.
The case received little scrutiny for more than a year. Richter’s supervisors reviewed the incident, but issued the lowest level of discipline — a reprimand and additional training.
However, after the videos became public, Police Chief Art Acevedo launched a number of administrative reviews, including into how Richter’s supervisors handled the matter. Those inquiries are pending.
Last week, the Statesman reported that the Police Department also had begun a new level of oversight into use-of-force incidents in what officials said likely is the first step in a broader overhaul.
Under a new “peer review” practice, an officer’s assigned supervisory chain will continue evaluating the lowest level of use-of-force encounters, such as hand-to-hand combat and pepper spray. But effective immediately, a separate commander also must sign off on what happened and on any discipline.
The department also has set deadlines for the reviews, saying they must be finalized within 60 days to ensure department officials can impose possible discipline before a state-mandated 180-day deadline.