Lawyer says Austin police officers severely injured his client during a mental health call

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Austin Community Law Center alleges Austin Police officers severely injured a man during a mental health call. (Austin Community Law Center Photo.)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Community Law Center announced it filed a lawsuit against the Austin Police Department. The nonprofit claims several APD officers severely injured its client, James (Jim) Templeton, during a mental health call.

Brian McGiverin, Executive Director of Austin Community Law Center, said, “Although it was a mental health call, officers approached our client from concealment, held him at gunpoint and violently wrenched his shoulder during handcuffing, ignoring his cries for pain for hours.”

Austin Community Law Center alleges Austin Police officers severely injured a man during a mental health call. (Austin Community Law Center Photo.)

Templeton shared his story with KXAN News. He said this all happened two years ago, November 2017, when someone called and asked APD to check on him.

When he got home, he said “several Austin police officers jumped from my bushes and attacked me at gunpoint.”

Templeton said when he was put into handcuffs, the officers twisted his arm so hard, “they ripped my rotator cuff, my bicep tendon, and my labral tendon.”

He continued, “I had done nothing wrong. They were sent to do a mental welfare check.”

Waiting for a mental health officer

Templeton said once the officers handcuffed him, even though he asked for medical help, he didn’t receive any, and he had to wait two hours for a mental health officer to arrive.

According to APD’s policy, “if the incident is an emergency involving a person in mental health crisis, a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officer will be dispatched as the primary responding officer. If a CIT officer is not available, any patrol officer will be dispatched immediately and a CIT officer will respond as soon as possible.”

The manual adds, the following incidents require the response of a CIT officer:

  • Any situation where the responding officer believes that a person’s mental health is adversely affecting the persons behavior.
  • Any request from a member of the community for a CIT officer.
  • Mental health related calls from a facility/provider that furnishes services on behalf of the mental health community.
  • Any health care facility or emergency room request for assistance relating to a person suspected of a mental illness.

Templeton said he told the responding officers he wasn’t going to harm himself, and he wasn’t experiencing a mental health crisis. He said, the officers still used a peace officer emergency detention and took him to a mental health treatment facility.

That’s when the officer believes the person is mentally ill and poses a threat to themselves or another person, and there isn’t enough time to get a warrant before taking the person into custody.

The lawsuit claims the officers took Templeton into a “peace officer emergency detention” even though “they had no reason to believe he was a danger to himself or others.”

Templeton also added, when he asked later about using force to detain him, “They said because they knew I owned a firearm, that’s why they were justified in using what is clearly excessive force. I was not armed when they attacked me.” He explained, just days prior, he had called APD about a person who tried to break into his home.

Mental health training

Templeton said, “I don’t wish this to happen to anybody whether or not they’re having a mental health crisis. This shouldn’t happen.”

He said the way APD handles mental health calls must change.

“The officers involved need to be fired,” he said. “The 40 hours of training they say they have for officers and 80 hours for the mental health officers is garbage.”

The lawsuit comes just days after Chief Brian Manley announced all of his officers will receive an additional 40 hours of mental health training.

The city spokesperson sent KXAN a statement:

“The City of Austin learned about the lawsuit during last night’s City Council’s budget hearings.  The City and the Austin Police Officers have not yet been served.  The Austin Police Department is familiar with the incident in which its officers responded to a call for an individual in crisis. We are prepared to defend the City and the actions of its officers in response to the call.”

We checked in with the Office of Police Oversight to see if anyone had filed similar complaints.

The office received a total of 719 complaints about officer conduct so far this year, but it doesn’t track data specifically on calls related to mental health. An Austin Assistant Police Chief said they use a peace officer emergency detention about 14 times a day.

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