AUSTIN (KXAN) — Attorneys filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin and three of its officers, claiming the officers used excessive force against a man the attorneys say had a history of suicidal thoughts.
“His mother was worried about him because he made suicidal threats,” said Jeff Edwards, who is representing James Johnson in the suit. “The police had an obligation to go there.”
Edwards said Johnson’s jaw was broken in the August 2021 incident.
In police body camera video of the incident, you can see three officers respond to Johnson’s home. The beginning of the video shows Johnson standing in the doorway. He shows his hands and repeatedly says he’s “not a threat.” He’s dressed in what appears to be only boxer shorts.
The video shows Johnson and the officers go back and forth between officers asking him to come out, and Johnson stating he does not want to leave his home.
You can hear an officer say “I just want to help you,” and Johnson responds “if you want to help, you need to listen to me… I promise you, I’m not a threat to anybody.”
The video then shows Johnson step further outside with his hands still up. At this point, officers instructed him to get onto the ground. Officers appear to be slowly approaching.
Body cam footage then shows Johnson walking back into his home, which is when officers speed up, and you can see at least one use a Taser on Johnson. Johnson is now on the ground, and the three officers come inside.
Officers are seen in the video attempting to handcuff Johnson and are heard repeating “put your hands behind your back.” Johnson continues to say “I’m not a threat,” as officers get one of his hands into the handcuffs. Johnson then moves his free hand from the officer’s grip, and officers command him to put it behind his back again.
At this point, Johnson’s attorney said the video shows another officer hit Johnson’s head into the ground “leaving him bloodied and with a broken jaw.”
“He was rushed and attacked by three police officers,” said Edwards. “Officers resorted to force immediately before it was called for.”
The City of Austin provided the following statement about the suit.
“We’ve not yet been served but stand ready to defend the City and its officers in response to this lawsuit.”City spokesperson
The city spokesperson goes on to say since the city has not yet been served, it’s not in a position to comment further.
While neither the City nor the Austin Police Department can comment at this time, we showed the video to Texas Municipal Police Association Executive Director Kevin Lawrence.
“So, somebody is concerned he is in danger, and now the police are expected to do something about it,” said Lawrence. “His reaction is ‘I’m not a danger, therefore you have no right to be contacting me.'”
Lawrence said officers have a duty to interact in some capacity.
“And now the officers have this quagmire, okay? If they just say, ‘oh sorry’ and walk away and then the guy commits suicide, what’s going to happen next?” he said. “Whereas they try to take him into custody so they can… get him to a medical professional and he resists, which he did here, we have a different set of problems. It’s a no-win situation for officers.”
According to APD’s general orders, “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.”
KXAN has not yet been able to independently verify whether any of the officers who responded to Johnson’s home were CIT officers.