By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor.
In May of this year, we reported a disturbing allegation of an unlawful use of force against a then fifteen-year-old girl by a Tacoma Police Officer working an off-duty assignment at a large shopping mall.
Originally filed in with the Pierce County Washington Superior Court, on September 19th the case was removed to the U.S. District Court of Western Washington.
Surveillance video shows what appears to be disturbing actions by a professional police officer used against a petite fifteen year old for alleged criminal acts against her that were later dismissed. Plaintiff alleges in her tort claim that race discrimination was a factor in the incident.
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.
In the amended complaint filed in State Court, and subsequently entered into the federal court’s record, Plaintiffs allege that TPD Officer Williams, “had [not] seen Plaintiffs engage in any criminal activity prior to Defendant Knaack and Defendant Williams stopping Plaintiffs,” and further allege, “Defendant Williams allegedly responded that Plaintiffs were causing a disturbance and were being “trespassed” from the Mall because of their disruptive behavior. Plaintiff Tillman responded that she believed was being harassed because of the color of her skin.”
Plaintiff states, and the video seems to support, that Officer Williams, “tossed Plaintiff Tillman around like a child’s doll, slamming her into parked vehicles, forcefully shoving his hand and forearm into her chest, grabbing her by the hair and body slamming her into the pavement. Once Defendant Williams had flung Plaintiff Tillman to the ground, he deployed his Taser, sending painful electric shocks through Plaintiff Tillman.
Plaintiff Branch [her brother] was horrified by Defendant Williams’ brutalization of his sister and attempted to come to her aid.
When Plaintiff Branch tried to help his sister, Defendant Williams ordered Plaintiff Branch to back off and pointed his Taser at him, threatening to deploy it.
Defendant Knaack either grabbed or shoved Plaintiff Branch to the ground
after Plaintiff Branch backed away from Defendant Williams.”
Plaintiffs generally allege Unlawful use of force, negligence in preventing excessive use of force and failure to upholding constitutional rights of persons in the community, Assault and Battery, intentional or reckless infliction of emotion distress, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, section 1983 violation–excessive use of force and deliberate indifference, and violation of the Washington Civil Rights Act.
My personal analysis of the surveillance video cited in the complaint 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.
While the complaint alleges that race was a factor in defendant’s alleged assault against the plaintiffs, I personally believe this is likely the least provable fact and no evidence to support this claim was proffered by Plaintiffs in the amended complaint other than mentioning that the “color of her skin” elicited the unlawful actions by Defendants. If however it is so proven, it would not only satisfy the Section 1983 race/color elements but greatly increase, obviously, the damages.
I do however feel this case has strong merit; sufficient enough to warrant a settlement offer by Defendants.
And, as I have mentioned repeatedly in the past, this is yet another shining example of how such small things can mushroom into a protracted controversy that is very costly to officers choosing to clamp down when it is not necessary. Those in authority need to understand that simply looking the other way on stuff that does not matter is often the best course of action. It is not worth it to anyone.
By Darren Smith
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