By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
The family of a then fifteen year old girl filed a lawsuit against a Tacoma, Washington mall and its security contractor alleging a Tacoma Police Officer used excessive force during what plaintiff’s claim is an unjustified stop and arrest. Newly released security video shows in the opinion of your author a disturbing example of a law enforcement officer utilizing not only unjustified and unreasonable force, but disregard for even common decency and showing clear conduct unbecoming of a professional.
The incident was captured on surveillance video and shows what I believe is self-evident conduct likely to garner strong liability on behalf of defendants.
In May of 2014, plaintiff Monique Charlene Tillman and her brother claim earlier in the day they sold clothing to earn money to buy food. Afterward they biked through the Tacoma Mall parking lot on their way home. It was during this crossing that off-duty Tacoma Police Officer Jared Williams, who was working a paid detail for the mall and not on official assignment with the police department, stopped the siblings. The event is shown in the below video.
The lawsuit claims that after being stopped by Officer Williams, accompanied by three mall security guards, Monique began arguing and tried to ride away. During this stop, the lawsuit alleges that the teenagers where told they would be banned from mall property for creating a disturbance.
As Monique started to ride away, Officer Williams yanked her from her bicycle and aggressively arrested her, finishing the incident by firing a Taser at her.
This is surveillance video showing the incident.
Plaintiff alleges the stop was unlawful, but your author does not have information regarding the reasonable suspicion or probable cause stated by Officer Williams who charged Monique with Assault in the Fourth Degree claiming assault on the officer. Several months later a Pierce County Juvenile Court dismissed this charge. For the purposes of discussion, we will not discuss the reasonable suspicion alleged for stopping Monique or her brother. In my opinion it is really only tangent to the use of force engaged by Officer Williams. I do not consider his actions to be justified by whatever crime Monique could be accused. I believe the force used was facially unlawful.
My analysis of the video is as follows.
- The video begins with Monique and her brother riding through the parking lot, followed by Officer Williams and the security guards.
- 00:17 Personal contact is made with Monique who is upon her bicycle. She begins talking and directing his attention ahead with hand gestures probably indicating her destination as she passes through the parking lot.
- 00:48 Officer Williams pulls a notebook from his shirt pocket, Most likely to begin writing information about the incident or Monique’s name.
- 00:56 Monique leans forward, appearing to ride away. She has her right foot on the ground and her hands probably on the handlebars.
- 00:57 Officer Williams, using both hands while still holding the notepad grasps her left arm and pulls her toward him.If Williams did not allow Monique to leave simply stepping forward and holding her back with a hand or grabbing the handlebar I am certain would have been sufficient to stop her from leaving. Preventing Monique from leaving an investigation would be lawful, provided in this case a minimal amount of force is used.
- 00:58 Officer Williams pulls Monique from the bike quickly while attempting to put Monique to the ground using a Straight Arm Bar Takedown. Monique does not fall to the ground and stands.I believe pulling Monique from the bicycle in this manner is unnecessary and a reasonable action would be to have her dismount the bicycle and remain standing, or even ordering her to sit on the pavement. She was not given any opportunity to do so. An Arm Bar Takedown can cause minor injuries to a person upon striking pavement as it is common for the target of the takedown to suddenly fall to the ground. Used properly the takedown can be mitigated by holding the arm and setting the person down but this is not always successful. But, again, I do not believe it was necessary.
- 00:59 Monique turns in a manner consistent with being spun around by Williams who is trying to restrain her. The two then go off camera. One of the security guards holds back her brother briefly.
- 01:08 Monique is held to the black SUV, restrained by a palm to her chest. Monique appears to be holding onto Officer Williams’ left forearm.
- 01:24 Officer Williams attempts to put Monique’s right arm behind her back to cuff her but this does not happen. Instead, Williams spins her around and walks her to the from of the vehicle where he again pushes her into the SUV, probably in another attempt to handcuff her.
- 01:29 After another unsuccessful attempt to put Monique onto the ground, and she stands, Officer Williams grabs her by the back of the head using a hair-hold while using a wrist clench.
- 01:32 Officer Williams strongly yanks Monique, by the hair, to the sidewalk.Given the hardness of the ground, the physical size of Monique compared with Officer Williams, his strength, and training, and the fact that this incident was a minor violation at best, lesser means should have been employed. Officers are permitted by state law and common law to exercise reasonable force to overcome resistance, which defendants are likely to argue. However reasonableness is by both forms of law mandated.
- 01:38 Williams straddles Monique and draws a Taser.
- 01:40 Officer Williams shoots Monique with the darts of his Taser as evidenced by her clenching and the reflection of a wire in the video. He then holds his Taser while standing above her.In my view there was no reason to deploy a Taser against Monique given that she was on the ground and could have been cuffed with little difficulty. In fact, she was where Williams wanted her to be given that he used Straight Arm Bar Takedowns before. He was already standing above her and unless she displayed a weapon, which there is no evidence this occurred, the Taser use was excessive.
- 01:53 One of the security guards comes forward and handcuffs Monique while Williams stands over her, holding the Taser. She remains on the sidewalk at least until the video ends.
Plaintiff’s attorney Vito de la Cruz said in a statement:
“A child riding a bike should not have to worry that a police officer will stop her without legal cause and brutalize her. Our communities are weary of another African American child being hurt by unwarranted and excessive police force.”
In filing the lawsuit against Tacoma Mall’s owner, Simon Property Group, and security contractor Universal Services of America, Plaintiff claims negligence but has not presently enumerated monetary damages.
By Darren Smith
Source: KOMO News
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