CENTER, TX (KTRE) - Late last week, an attorney for a Shelby County man filed an excessive force lawsuit against the Center Police Department and the City of Center. The lawsuit is asking for unspecified "exemplary damages."
The lawsuit, which specifically names two Center PD officers as defendants in the case, alleges that after Kenith Windham visited his mother's grave in January and was pursued by an officer, the CPD officer used mixed martial arts techniques on him during an arrest, breaking several bones in his face.
In addition, the lawsuit alleges that the second CPD officer that arrived on the scene threatened to let his K-9 loose, so it could attack Windham.
L. Charles van Cleef, Windham's defense attorney, declined to comment on the case.
Center Police Chief Jim Albers and Center City Attorney James Payne were unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon.
"The City of Center, Texas, has a policy, custom, or practice of tolerating police beatings of citizens, which directly resulted in serious physical injury to Plaintiff," the lawsuit's petition states.
The lawsuit's petition states the excessive force incident occurred on Jan. 21. It also says Windham had been visiting the grave site of his mother when he left the cemetery in a vehicle and headed home, adding that he didn't stop anywhere before he encountered the first Center PD officer. According to the lawsuit, the officer started chasing Windham after he left the cemetery. The CPD officer allegedly later tried to justify the chase by claiming Windham was leaving a "known drug house."
Windham had no drugs or weapons in his possession or vehicle, according to the lawsuit's petition.
Because the Center PD officer had "no legal justification to interfere with Plaintiff's travels," Windham did not pull over, the petition states. The CPD officer allegedly followed Windham to Brown Street, where he crashed.
The lawsuit's petition states the Center PD officer then chased Windham on foot for a short distance.
According to the lawsuit, the first Center PD officer who has been trained in mixed martial arts techniques like lower torso holds, choking, and face punching on Windham.
"[The police officer] repeatedly struck Plaintiff's face so hard that he broke several bones in Plaintiff's face despite Plaintiff's attempts to avoid the repeated, unjustified strikes, surrender, and 'tap out,'" the lawsuit's petition states.
The lawsuit also alleges that the Center PD officer had his legs around Windham, and he choked the man until he almost passed out.
"Plaintiff did not strike [the Center PD officer], but merely flailed in an attempt to avoid being beaten, as any human being would do while being grappled, choked and punched, repeatedly, in the face," the lawsuit states.
The first Center PD officer allegedly later claimed that his knee was hurt and that it resulted from Windham "falling on Trump."
When the second Center PD officer arrived on the scene, he put handcuffs on Windham, the lawsuit states. He allegedly kept telling Windham to stop squirming and spitting while Windham was on his knees, "bleeding and handcuffed."
"Plaintiff was spitting blood because his mouth was filling with blood due to multiple injuries to his face and mouth including a broken palate, and he was spitting on the ground not in the direction of anyone," the lawsuit states.
At that point, the second Center PD officer allegedly threatened to let his dog, "a barking K-9 in his vehicle," attack Windham and then went to his patrol unit. In addition, the lawsuit alleges Knowlton threatened to slam his face into the ground again.
"Plaintiff, who had already been beaten, was suffering severe injury and disorientation, and is afraid of dogs, reasonably believed that [the second CPD officer] was going to allow his dog to attack Plaintiff when [the second CPD officer] walked back to his vehicle," the lawsuit's petition states.
At that point, Windham, who was in fear for his life, stood up with his hands still cuffed behind his back and tried to run into some bushes to avoid further injury, the lawsuit's petition states.
The two CPD officers chased Windham a short distance.
Both Defendants … chased Plaintiff a short distance to the bushes," the lawsuit's petition states. "When [the first Center PD officer] reached the Plaintiff, he resumed striking the helpless and handcuffed Plaintiff in the face, then threw the Plaintiff onto the pavement. Since his hands were behind him, Plaintiff was helpless to break his fall."
The lawsuit alleges that the second officer watched the beating without doing anything about it.
In addition, the lawsuit's petition claims that the officers' demeanor changed when other officers and emergency personnel, including Windham's brother, a Shelby County Sheriff's Office detective, arrived on the scene. They allegedly tried to prevent Windham's brother from seeing him.
The first officer was placed on a gurney, and Windham was forced to sit on the floor of the ambulance that took him for medical treatment, according to the lawsuit's petition.
The lawsuit also alleges that a Shelby County justice of the peace bonded Windham out of custody immediately "to avoid responsibility for medical expenses." According to the lawsuit's petition, Windham's injuries required surgery and care that resulted in more than $120,000 in medical fees.
"Plaintiff still suffers loss of depth perception, impaired peripheral vision, impaired sense of smell, and other nerve damage because of these beatings," the lawsuit's petition states. "He lost his job because of his injuries and limitations."
The lawsuit's petition alleges that the first Center PD officer often pursues resisting arrest or assault on a public servant charges "against citizens he harms to justify and cover his misdeeds."
In addition, the lawsuit's petition states that the district attorney's office rejected the resisting arrest and driving while intoxicated charges the Center PD officer filed against Windham.
"Defendant Center, Texas, and its Police Department's actions and inactions amount to a persistent, widespread practice by governmental agency officials or employees which, although not officially promulgated or adopted, is so common and well settled as to constitute a policy or custom that fairly represents the Department's policy," the lawsuit's petition states.
The lawsuit's petition claims the two Center PD officers violated Windham's constitutional rights, and it cited the Fourth Amendment, which protects U.S. citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures and excessive force.
In addition to his injuries, Windham also suffered emotional distress and mental anguish, according to the lawsuit's petition.
In the lawsuit's petition, van Cleef asked for unspecified "exemplary damages," attorney fees, and court costs. He also requested a jury trial.