SEATTLE — A teenager rode her bicycle through a mall parking lot when an off-duty officer working for a private security company pulled her down, threw her to the ground and shocked her with a stun gun.
Caught on surveillance video , the 2014 encounter with the girl, who is black, drew outrage. She initially was charged with assaulting an officer before the case was dropped. Now, she’s targeting his Washington state police department in a newly expanded lawsuit.
It claims the Tacoma department’s policies lead officers to attack residents, including minors such Monique Tillman, then 15, and violate their civil rights. Police supervisors routinely approve “abusive, excessive and unnecessary uses of force” and retain abusive officers, according to the expanded suit filed last week.
The original claim targeted Officer Jared Williams, who is white; the mall’s owner; and the security company. It grew to include the department after it acknowledged that the officer acted within the scope of his police duties despite being paid by a private employer, said Tillman’s lawyer, Vito de la Cruz.
The lawsuit has not affected the department’s policy of allowing officers to work for outside companies, a police spokeswoman said Tuesday. Off-duty officers wear their uniforms on those jobs and are officially police while they work private security or an event, she said.
Police agencies across the country have different policies for off-duty work, experts say.
The suit comes as law enforcement agencies nationwide are under fire for their treatment of minorities and as officers face increasing threats. Police shootings have sparked protests, recently from 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and retaliation from a man who killed five Dallas officers in a July sniper attack.
In the Washington case, the girl’s attorney said they believe the officer’s actions were racially motivated that she now fears law enforcement. Tillman declined an interview Wednesday, de la Cruz said.
Officer Williams still works for the department, but it does not comment on pending litigation, said Officer Loretta Cool, a spokeswoman. The Associated Press’ attempts to reach Williams were unsuccessful.
Tillman, then a 10th-grader, and her brother, Eric Branch, 16, were heading home from a fast food restaurant and cut across the Tacoma Mall parking lot on their bicycles on May 24, 2014.
Williams, who was working for mall security, pulled up behind them in his police cruiser with lights flashing and an air horn blasting. Another security officer pulled up.
Tillman asked Williams why they were being stopped, and he said they were “causing a disturbance” and trespassing, the complaint said. Police have since declined to clarify what that disturbance entailed.
As Williams took out a pad of paper, Tillman started to pedal away.
“Williams erupted and began brutalizing this 15-year-old girl,” the complaint said.
The video shows Williams grabbing the girl off the bike and pushing her against a car. He then grabbed her hair and threw her to the ground.
He used his stun gun on her, “sending painful electric shocks” through her body, the lawsuit says.
Tillman’s brother tried to help his sister, and Williams threatened him with the device, the complaint said. The other security officer grabbed or shoved the boy to the ground and handcuffed him. Both siblings were booked into a juvenile facility.
Tillman was charged with assaulting an officer, resisting arrest and obstruction, but the counts were later dismissed, her lawyer said.
Her lawsuit alleges that the department fails to train, investigate or discipline its officers who use force, so it’s become a common practice to the point that it’s encouraged.
Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, said an officer’s decision to use force should depend on how much the suspect resists and whether the suspect is a threat.
Police departments should keep track of how officers assess those factors by looking at the number of complaints they receive, he said.
“He needs to explain what threat she posed to him to justify the use of force,” Alpert said. “The question becomes what are they doing to manage the use of force? If they’re doing nothing, it may appear they are encouraging excessive force.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and asks the court to order the department to limit the use of reasonable force and discipline officers who use excessive force.
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