AUSTIN (KXAN) - A man who suffered a panic attack after being shot at by an Austin police officer during a traffic stop in May filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday claiming the incident worsened his heart ailment and caused other injuries.
The lawsuit was prepared with the help of the Texas Civil Rights Project on behalf of 55-year-old James Barton. It claims that Officer Justin Boehm had no cause to open fire and that Barton's constitutional rights were violated.
The suit seeks reimbursement of at least $12,700 for medical bills, the cost for lawyer fees and an unspecified amount of money for punitive damages. it names as defendants the city, unidentified police officers and Boehm, a four-year veteran of the department.
“The police are out of control with the respect with the way their using deadly violence. The police chief is clearly unable to control it,” said James Harrington, the director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. “It’s really the responsibility of city council to do that job and I hope that part of this lawsuit will achieve that."
Barton was stopped on May 8 during the morning during rush hour near the intersection of Airport Boulevard and 12th Street. Police said Barton illegally went through an intersection.
Barton said during a news conference Wednesday that he saw the wrong green light and started drive and made left hand turn. He said when the officer followed him through the intersection, he pulled over immediately.
"I was going to exit my door, I had my wallet in both hands when I opened the door and exited the truck," Barton said. "I shut the door with my elbow and boom he shot at me before I even got to the rear wheel of the truck."
The single gunshot missed Barton. APD said Boehm remains on desk duty while the matter is under investigation.
"It happened so fast. It was just incredible. All I saw was the outline of his head the barrel of a gun pointed straight between my eyes," Barton said. "He started screaming and yelling at me to put my hands up turn around get back in the truck then he had me get out of the truck lay on the ground the whole time pointing the gun at my head."
Police Chief Art Acevedo said his officer's dash camera video showed Boehm's feared for his life. Harrington said that should not be an excuse.
"They're trained to what to expect and how to react and how to protect themselves," said Harrington. "That's supposed to be part of their training so you cant just say I was afraid and shoot somebody."
The city of Austin issued a statement saying the administrative investigation into the matter is expected to be completed in the next few weeks.
"The criminal investigation is complete and has been forwarded to the Travis County District Attorney’s office for their review," the statement said. "We are aware of the Federal lawsuit that has been filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project. Due to pending litigation, we cannot provide any more details at this time."
Barton suffered a panic attack during the situation and was taken to the hospital.
Police Chief Art Acevedo said shortly after the shooting that people should not get out of their vehicles during traffic stops.
But Barton told reporters that he learned at an early age to get out the car when a police officer pulls him over. Barton that he was told it showed that a person was not armed and it helps protect the officer.
Barton later stated he doesn't always get out the car during a traffic stop, it just depends on the situation and if the environment is safe.
He later admitted to having a current traffic ticket pending that is not related to this incident, which he did not receive a ticket for.
Regardless, Harrington highlighted during the news conference with a poster that there have been six officer involved shootings since 2011. He ultimately blamed the City Council and Office of Police Monitor for not taking control.
“I think City Council has to say to Acevedo, 'this has got to stop. You have 10 days to give us a plan you have to report back every three months and if you’re not going to do it you’re out,'” said Harrington.
Harrington said the department needs to wait before making statements about officer involved shootings.
"Look you don’t get out in front of the camera and offer blame the victim when something happens you stand back and let there be an investigation and then you decide who’s to blame," said Harrington. "But you don’t arrive on the scene your position already taken because the message to the officer is I’m going to support you no matter what you do.”
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