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King v. The City of Austin

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

March 21, 2017

BREAION KING, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF AUSTIN, TEXAS and OFFICER BRYAN RICHTER, Defendants.

          ORDER

          SAM SPARKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         BE IT REMEMBERED on this day the Court reviewed the file in the above-styled cause, and specifically Defendant City of Austin, Texas (the City)'s Motion to Dismiss [#13], Plaintiff Breaion King (Plaintiff)'s Response [#15] in opposition, and the City's Reply [#16] in support. Having considered the documents, the governing law, and the file as a whole, the Court now enters the following opinion and order.

         Background[1]

         This case arises out of Plaintiff s allegations she was subjected to excessive use of force and racial discrimination by Officer Bryan Richter of the Austin Police Department (APD) in the course of a routine traffic stop. Plaintiff claims Officer Richter and the City are liable to her under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating her constitutional rights and under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for violating her federal rights. Am. Comp. [#12] at 10.

         I. Plaintiffs Arrest

         Plaintiff is a black woman who weighs approximately 120 pounds and is about five feet, five inches tall. Id. at 5, 7. According to Plaintiff, she was driving home on 1-35 in Austin, Texas during the early afternoon of June 15, 2015. Id. at 4. Plaintiff admits she was driving "slightly over the speed limit." Id. When Plaintiff observed a police patrol car flash its overhead lights in her rearview mirror, however, she believed the patrol car was pursuing a vehicle that had just sped past her. Id. Thus, Plaintiff continued driving, eventually pulling into a restaurant parking lot. Id.

         After parking, Plaintiff opened the door of her vehicle and began to walk toward the restaurant when Officer Richter's patrol car also pulled into the parking lot. Id. at 4-5. A white male, Officer Richter asked Plaintiff to return to her vehicle, and Plaintiff complied. Id. After Plaintiff returned to her vehicle, Officer Richter approached. Id. at 5. With the driver-side door of the car open, Plaintiff was seated in the driver's seat with her legs outside the vehicle. Id. Plaintiff asked Officer Richter whether he could pull her over when she had already parked her car and stepped out, and Officer Richter informed her that she had been speeding and requested her driver's license. Id. Plaintiff reached under the car seat for her driver's license. Id.

         Officer Richter asked Plaintiff to place her legs inside the vehicle. Id. Immediately, Officer Richter again asked Plaintiff to place her legs inside the vehicle. Id. Plaintiff did not refuse to place her legs inside the vehicle but was not given time to comply with the commands. Id. Officer Richter then demanded Plaintiff step out of the vehicle, grabbing her to pull her out of the car. Id.

         Plaintiff claims Officer Richter, in attempting to rip her out of the car, slammed her "against the steering wheel, causing the car horn to honk in short bursts and a long, sustained burst" Id. Plaintiff pleaded for Officer Richter to stop touching her and allow her to get out of the car voluntarily. Id. Ignoring Plaintiffs pleas, Officer Richter removed Plaintiff from her vehicle, slamming her against a nearby truck and then on to the parking lot pavement. Id. at 5-6. Officer Richter then positioned himself on top of Plaintiff, placing his elbow into Plaintiffs neck and attempting to handcuff her. Id. at 6. Plaintiff requested she be allowed to place her hands behind her back without them being forcefully yanked, but Officer Richter simply yelled at her to put her hands behind her back. Id. He then threatened to use his taser and Plaintiff screamed "Oh my god, why are you doing this to me?" Id.

         Officer Richter then brought Plaintiff to her feet but attempted move her back to the ground by placing her in a chokehold and repeatedly kicking her legs out from under her. Id. Eventually, Plaintiff once again lay on the ground and Officer Richter handcuffed her. Id. At some point, another APD officer arrived. See Id. Although Plaintiff was restrained and another officer was present, Officer Richter yanked Plaintiff off the ground by the chain of her handcuffs. Id.

         Other officers soon arrived and asked Officer Richter for his account of the interaction with Plaintiff. Id. Officer Richter claimed Plaintiff had attempted to throw a punch at him and said "no" twice when he asked her to put her legs in the car. Id. He stated, "If she was a guy, man, I would have just hit her and been done with it." Id. Officer Richter then asked for Plaintiff to be charged with resisting arrest, saying "If they ask what she's resisting[, ] just put arrest. If they ask specifically what she was resisting[, ] say arrest. They won't care about that." Id.

         Plaintiff requested to be transported by an officer other than Officer Richter, and she was placed Officer Spradlin's police car. Id. at 6-7. During the ride to the police station, the following conversation was recorded on video:

Officer Spradlin: Well let me ask you this. Why are so many people afraid of black people?
Plaintiff: That's what I wanna figure out! Because I'm not a bad black person.
Officer Spradlin: I can give you a really good... a really good idea of why it might be that way.
Plaintiff: Why?
Officer Spradlin: Violent tendencies. And I want you to ... I want you to think about that. I'm not saying anything. . . I'm not saying it's true. I'm not saying I can prove it or nothing. But 99% of the time when you hear about stuff like that, it's the black community that's being violent. That's why a lot of the white people are afraid, and I don't blame them. There are some guys I look at... I, yeah... I know it's my job to deal with them and I know it's probably going to go ugly... But that's the way it goes. But yeah, some of them, because of their appearance or whatnot, some of them are very intimidating.

Id. at 7.

         At the police station, Plaintiff was charged with resisting arrest. Id. Those charges were later dismissed "in the interest of justice." Id.

         II. Officer Richter's History

         According to Plaintiff s amended complaint, Officer Richter committed numerous excessive force violations against individuals but had not been disciplined for those violations before Plaintiffs arrest. Id. at 8. Plaintiff summarizes video evidence from three different incidents but includes no details on when the events occurred or the race of the individuals with whom Officer Richter interacted. See id.

         In the first incident, Officer Richter pulled over a male driver and a female passenger. After the driver refused a breathalyzer test, the situation escalated. Id. Officer Richter placed the driver in a chokehold and forced him to the ground. Id. Recording the incident, the female passenger was ordered to return to her vehicle. Id. As she was returning to the ...


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