Woman claims Austin Police abused her in “SWAT-style” arrest

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Breanna Williams and her girlfriend were caught in a Texas downpour back in June 2017. They ran until they reached a downtown Austin hotel.

The women went into the restroom and tried to dry off. But, both later left in handcuffs — Williams left in the back of an ambulance.

Williams said her ex-husband, her daughter and step-daughter were staying at the hotel and she’d been there in the days before to visit. She planned to stay that night with them, she said.

“A hotel employee, for some reason, we caught her attention. She came into the restroom, started being pretty verbal with us, aggressive, accused of us doing cocaine,” Williams said in a press conference at her attorney’s office Thursday. “Accused us of—not so veiled—of being prostitutes and we just kind of got into an altercation with her, verbally,” Williams said.

Minutes later, a hotel security guard had Williams on the ground with her hands behind her back, she said. Williams said the security guard didn’t let her up until Austin Police officers arrived.

As soon as APD officers walked up, Williams said they handcuffed her, picked her up off the ground and walked her outside.

Breanna Williams accuses two Austin Police Officers of permanently scarring her after a June 2017 arrest at a downtown Austin hotel.

“They took me around the side of the car and I was facing the inside of the car, talking to them with my hands cuffed and he pushed me very hard and I fell in and my entire face was cut open,” Williams recalled of that night.  

“From the time that they arrived at the hotel, it was SWAT-style. It was very violent. It was very—no questions asked, just hostile,” Williams said.

“I started screaming, crying. I couldn’t pull myself up, I had to just lay there. They left me there for a second, then they pulled me up and then they realized what had happened.”

FEDERAL COMPLAINT: EXCESSIVE FORCE

Thursday, Williams’ attorney filed a federal lawsuit against Austin Police Officers Nathan Canche and Vanessa Jimenez. The suit accused the pair of using “excessive force” that was “unnecessary and unreasonable” and caused “permanent injury” to her face.

When Williams was pushed into the back of the patrol car, she said her face hit the seat belt receiver. Pictures taken the night of the arrest show a large gash down the left side of her face had been stitched up.

Wiliams said one of the officers pushed her so hard into the back of the car, it took 60 stitches to close the cut.

The federal filing includes a before-and-after picture of Williams’ face from that night. Also included is a still picture taken from cell phone video Williams’ friend recorded during her arrest.

The officers charged Williams with four crimes that night: public intoxication, resisting arrest and two counts of simple assault. Those charges were all dismissed, according to Williams’ attorney, Brian McGiverin.

This isn’t the first time McGiverin has sued the police department and these two officers in a use of force lawsuit. In 2017, McGiverin filed a lawsuit that included Officers Jimenez and Canche in a jaywalking case where video shows Canche punching a man several times.

Austin Police did not agree to an interview for this report, instead the city’s public relations manager, David Green, released this statement through email, “We have not yet been served with the lawsuit but we are familiar with the incident and are prepared to defend the City and the officers.”

APD Public Information Officer Anna Sabana told KXAN the department investigated Williams’ complaints against Jimenez and Canche in 2017. “Both officers were exonerated and as a result no discipline was given,” Sabana wrote in an email Thursday.

Both officers are still “active,” Sabana confirmed.

Sabana did not answer questions as to whether either officer was ever investigated over a use of force complaint before. “You will need to file a PIR (Public Information Request)” Sabana wrote.

PRIOR VIOLATION: Officer Vanessa Jimenez

In September 2016, former Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo signed off on a 20-day suspension for Officer Vanessa Jimenez. The officer was accused of using a taser on a man who was already handcuffed inside a jail booking room.

The man, who is not identified in the disciplinary memo published on the department’s web site, was arrested and charged with public intoxication. The man was detained by a set of “belly chain handcuffs,” according to the report.

“Later the arrestee stood up from his chair, argued with several officers, and refused to comply with orders to remain seated,” the memo stated. “A struggle ensued during which Officer Jimenez deployed her Taser and discharged one five-second pulse at the conclusion of the struggle,” according to the memo.

Jimenez admitted “her use of the Taser was not objectively reasonable as there were lesser means available to control the subject,” the then-chief wrote in the report.

A search of the department’s online disciplinary records does not show any disciplinary actions filed against Officer Canche. The APD online disciplinary memorandum database dates back to 2012.

McGiverin, who was not involved in litigation over the Jimenez tasing case, said he’s seen a pattern with the downtown unit Jimenez and Officer Canche are assigned to.

“In my opinion, it’s a trend in downtown area command,” McGiverin said during Thursday’s press conference, “In my anecdotal experience, it is incredibly common for officers in that division to resort to force very early in confrontations when it’s not yet necessary.”   

McGiverin confirmed he did not attempt to negotiate a settlement with the department before filing the federal suit in the Williams case. “I did not have a direct dialogue with the police department before we filed this lawsuit. My experience with them has been they condone this sort of activity; they consider it as being normal in the Sixth Street area,” McGivern said.

“Their expectation is there are going to be more violent encounters in this district, and they regard that as normal,” McGivern added.

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