, Fort Worth police accused of excessive force in several ongoing civil cases, The Nzuchi Times News

Fort Worth police accused of excessive force in several ongoing civil cases

, Fort Worth police accused of excessive force in several ongoing civil cases, The Nzuchi Times News

In the past two months, the city of Fort Worth has been accused in three separate lawsuits of failing to properly train police officers, leading to excessive — and sometimes deadly — use of force.

The city currently faces at least five ongoing lawsuits in regards to the police department. Of those suits, one is on behalf of a former officer accusing the department of wrongful termination. The other four lawsuits accuse Fort Worth officers of using excessive force.

From 2009 to 2019, the city of Fort Worth paid more than $2.2 million to settle lawsuits involving the police department, according to records obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in October 2019. While the cost may seem high, city officials said at the time that the city’s payouts for settlements is among the lowest in the country. According to records obtained by Governing magazine from the country’s largest cities, Fort Worth’s expenses rank at the bottom.

Excessive force claims

On July 1, Tracy Langiano filed a suit against the city and the police officer who shot him multiple times inside a motel room on July 28, 2020. Officer Landon Rollins said Langiano pointed a gun at him when he and another officer were responding to a welfare check on Langiano, but Langiano says he was asleep, lying on the bed, facing away from the door when Rollins fired.

Rollins was suspended for 15 days without pay after the shooting, and he was no-billed by a grand jury. He now works for the Lake Worth Police Department. The city of Fort Worth has said it cannot comment on pending litigation.

The suit says Fort Worth police have a pattern of responding to welfare checks with gunfire and references the fatal shooting of Atatiana Jefferson. The night of Oct. 12, 2019, the 28-year-old was playing video games with her nephew when a neighbor called a non-emergency number to ask someone to check on the house because the front door was open. Officers went to the back yard of the house and one of them, now-former Officer Aaron Dean, shone his flashlight into the window. Jefferson investigated the noise, carrying a gun. As she looked through the window, Dean shot her.

On May 19, Jefferson’s sister Ashley Carr filed a lawsuit against the city of Fort Worth, police department and city leaders. The Fort Worth Police Department, according to the lawsuit, “displayed a consistent and systematic failure” to train and supervise officers on the proper use of force and de-escalation techniques, resulting in officers unnecessarily using force against people of color.

Dean resigned and was charged with murder two days after he shot Jefferson. He was indicted by a grand jury in December 2019, and the criminal case is expected to go to trial this year. In a motion filed in response to the lawsuit, the city argued Carr is not the proper estate representative of Jefferson and therefore the suit is not valid. Carr also agreed to a temporary stay on the lawsuit after a motion for the stay was filed on Dean’s behalf. According to the motion, the lawsuit’s proceedings would threaten his right to a fair trial.

On May 17, Shamika Whitfield and her attorney filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that a Fort Worth officer racially profiled Whitfield during a traffic stop in April 2019. Whitfield says in the suit that an officer was overly aggressive when he pulled her over and accused her of speeding. The traffic stop escalated in minutes, and Whitfield was pulled out of the car, handcuffed and put into the back of a police car for 17 minutes.

Whitfield’s suit says the excessive force used against her was the result of the city and Fort Worth police failing to adequately train its officers in reasonable force and proper arrest and confrontation techniques. The officer, Thomas Shelton, was suspended for 30 days without pay. The speeding citation was dismissed. In a motion in response to the suit, the city denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

A fourth use of force lawsuit pending against the city was filed in 2015 by the family of Jerry Waller. Waller died in 2013 after Officer R.A. Alex Hoeppner shot him multiple times. Hoeppner and his partner, Ben Hanlon, were searching for a possible suspect after they were dispatched to a burglary alarm call across the street. Officers went to Waller’s home by accident.

, Fort Worth police accused of excessive force in several ongoing civil cases, The Nzuchi Times News

According to the lawsuit, Waller, suspecting a prowler was outside, grabbed his gun and went to investigate. Hoepnner saw Waller, shone his flashlight on him and yelled at him to drop his gun. Waller put his gun on the hood of his car and stood with his hands up, according to a judge’s memorandum opinion. Hoeppner shot Waller six times.

The judge ruled in favor of Fort Worth in January, writing in the opinion that while “this is an undeniably tragic case,” the plaintiffs did not prove the city’s policies caused Hoeppner’s actions.

A grand jury declined to indict Hoeppner, who is still an officer at the Fort Worth Police Department.

Other lawsuits in Fort Worth, Arlington, Dallas

A fifth pending lawsuit against the city was filed in November by a former officer. Deautric Sims was fired by the department for falsifying time sheets and not turning over seized marijuana, according to Civil Service records.

Since 2009, 67 lawsuits have been filed in federal North Texas court involving the Fort Worth Police Department.

Other Dallas-Fort Worth police agencies have faced recent lawsuits alleging excessive force. In 2019, the family of O’Shae Terry sued the Arlington Police Department after an officer shot and killed Terry during a traffic stop. The officer, Bau Tran, was charged with criminally negligent homicide.

On July 15, the family of a woman who was fatally shot by a former Arlington officer in 2019 filed a lawsuit against the city and the officer. The father of Margarita “Maggie” Brooks said former Officer Ravinder “Ravi” Singh was “deliberately indifferent to the risk” of his 30-year-old daughter’s death when he fired the gun on Aug. 1, 2019.

Singh shot multiple times at Brooks’ dog as it barked and ran toward him as he approached Brooks, and one of the bullets hit Brooks, who was lying on the grass.

Singh resigned from the police department three months after the shooting and a charge of criminally negligent homicide is pending against him.

After Officer Amber Guyger fatally shot Botham Jean in his apartment in 2018, Jean’s family sued Guyger and the Dallas Police Department. The suit alleged the Dallas Police Department “has a pattern, practice, history, and custom of using excessive force against minorities,” and accused it of not providing proper training or discipline for Guyger when it came to using deadly force.

Guyger, who was off-duty at the time of the shooting, has said she mistook Jean’s apartment for her own. She was fired from the police department and was convicted of murder in 2019. She is appealing the conviction and her 10-year sentence.

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