AUSTIN (KXAN) — A woman who was repeatedly punched and dragged by police officers in Austin during a trespass call that was recorded on cell phone video has sued the city, claiming excessive force.
The 26-year-old, Simone Nicole Griffith, was laying down outside a pediatrician’s office on Oct. 30 at a strip mall on Highway 183 when two officers conducting an urgent trespass call arrived, according to the lawsuit, filed on Christmas Eve.
Rebecca Webber, Griffith’s attorney, said in the lawsuit that Griffith is ‘profoundly mentally ill’ and was camping on the sidewalk of the strip mall because she did not have a safe or permanent place to live at the time.
“Simone’s special needs are obvious and extraordinary. She is child-like. Imagine [Austin Independent School District’s] reaction if there was a video of a teacher punching and dragging a special ed student by her hair because she refused to stand up,” said Webber in a statement.
The cell phone footage, released back in October by a bystander, starts with two officers on their knees, leaning over Griffith – who is laying down on the sidewalk – and reaching for her arms. The video then shows one of the officers dragging Griffith off the sidewalk by her arm.
The video records as one of the officers command Griffith to get on her stomach to which she replied, “I don’t have to listen to you.” It then shows one of the officers repeatedly punching Griffith.
The cell phone recording, as well as body camera footage and in-car video, is being used in an internal review of whether the officers, identified as Officer Rodriguez and Officer Escamilla in the lawsuit, were justified in using force against Griffith, the spokesperson for the City of Austin said in October.
“Anytime a police officer uses force, the incident deserves to be scrutinized,” the spokesperson said.
In an arrest affidavit Officer Rodriguez said about the incident, he made several commands for Griffith to get up, including after telling her she was being arrested, and she refused. Rodriquez wrote after attempting to place handcuffs on Griffith, she became ‘defensively resistant’ and scratched his face.
“I proceeded to give Nicole several more commands approximately 3 times to get up. Nicole refused to get up after every single command. I again repeated to Nicole to get up and that she was under arrest. Nicole still refused.”
The lawsuit and the release of the footage come months after a statewide ban on homeless encampments went into effect in July. 1. The city of Austin reported in the first weeks of the ban it connected more than 100 people, including veterans, to resources. But the attorney representing Griffith says Officer Rodriguez did not offer to help find a safe place to sleep or any other help during the incident.
The Austin Police Department said in 2019 it would require all officers to be certified mental health officers – and provide mental health officer training to all officers employed in the department. Austin Police Department has not said if they have completed the training for all of its officers.
APD has not said if Officer Rodriguez and Officer Escamilla received the mental health officer training. The department has also not answered whether its Crisis Intervention Team was requested to evaluate Griffith.
The misdemeanor charge against Griffith for criminal trespass was rejected by the Travis County Attorney’s Office on Nov. 12, court records show. Griffith is ‘temporarily safe’ and is being housed through charitable donations, according to her attorney.
The Austin Police Department and the City of Austin did not respond to our questions by the time of publication.
Original Article: kxan.com