Footage shows over twenty officers responding to a parking incident
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 06, 2013
CONTACT: Tyler Richard, (402) 476-8091 x104,
OMAHA – Members of an Omaha family filed a lawsuit in federal court today alleging that excessive force and a warrantless search and seizure were used in response to a parking incident in March 2013. The Johnson family has never received compensation for the damages to their property or their medical expenses resulting from the incident. All charges against the Johnsons were dropped. An internal investigation resulted in the termination of four officers and criminal charges being brought against two of the officers for either tampering with evidence or being an accessory.
The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Nebraska and Diana Vogt of Sherrets, Bruno & Vogt on behalf of five members of the Johnson family. It names Todd Schmaderer, Chief of Police, eight named officers, and 24 unnamed officers.
A neighbor captured video of the incident across the street from the Johnsons. His recording was posted on YouTube and circulated through several national media outlets. Throughout spring 2013, multiple rallies and demonstrations were held in support of the Johnsons, calling for reforms to OPD practices.
On Mar. 21, 2013, two officers responded to a request from a tow-truck driver who was removing unregistered vehicles. The lawsuit alleges that when Octavius Johnson walked up to try to determine what was happening to the family's cars, Octavius was placed in a chokehold, thrown to the ground and beaten. In the video, it appears as if the officer who struck Octavius looks around to ensure he is alone and then begins to hit Octavius. Brothers Juaquez and Demetrius Johnson filmed the incident from either the sidewalk or the front porch of their home at 33rd and Seward. Over twenty additional officers, including a command officer, arrived on the scene. Officers chased Juaquez into his home and conducted a search without a warrant. Inside the home, Sharon Johnson, aunt to the Johnson brothers, was thrown from her wheelchair while Juaquez was thrown to the floor and repeatedly struck. Officers did not help Sharon back into her wheelchair and instead placed her in handcuffs. The phone and video cameras used by Juaquez and Demetrius were confiscated and have never been returned. Criminal charges were filed against the officers involved in the conspiracy to destroy or hide the material. Sharon was taken to the hospital and the Johnson's two dogs were taken into custody at the Johnson's expense.
"Despite the fact that no crime, drugs, or weapons were involved, more than twenty officers arrived at the Johnson's home, invaded their privacy, confiscated their property and unnecessarily injured four members of the family," said cooperating attorney Diana Vogt. "You do not lose your right to be treated with respect by law enforcement simply because of where you live in Omaha or the color of your skin."
"Pulling over twenty officers away from other parts of the city should sound an alarm for taxpayers," said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. "Omaha Police have already been warned by the ACLU about their failure to respect the rights of those filming law enforcement. This incident further reinforces that independent oversight is needed to help evaluate training practices and provide for responses when officers depart from their training and standards."
The ACLU reports that they have received multiple complaints in recent years alleging police misconduct and racially biased practices from officers in Omaha. Many community groups, including the ACLU, have called for reforms which include independent oversight.
"People in Omaha should expect police practices which treat people fairly, keep our communities safe, and use taxpayer dollars wisely," said Nebraska ACLU Executive Director Becki Brenner. "OPD failed on all three counts in this situation. People in Omaha now have to wonder if either their family will be treated as poorly as the Johnsons or if resources are being diverted from a serious crime because of biased practices. While the ACLU is pleased that OPD has taken action against some of the officers in this case, the Johnsons have still not received justice. The people of Omaha have yet to be assured that actions from law enforcement will be independently monitored."
In the lawsuit, the Johnsons ask for monetary damages for their medical bills, damages to property, lost time from work and other expenses. Additionally, the ACLU hopes for punitive damages against four officers along with mandatory training for all OPD officers in de-escalation and First Amendment rights of those filming police.
"This incident will live with our family for the rest of our lives," said Sharee Johnson, mother of the three brothers and Sharon's sister. "None of us can call 911 when we need help and believe that police would be there to help us. We live in a city where we feel we have no protection."
Statement from Octavius Johnson
"I feel like I am on the opposite end of justice. A parking ticket turned into officers storming my house and me being thrown to the ground and put into a chokehold. When I was on the ground and police ran towards my house, I was worried about the family that raised me. I have seen incidents like this happen to other people. I now know that something like this could happen to not just my family, but any family."
Statement from Sharon Johnson
"Officers entered the home while I was watching from the front door. Juaquez enters and next thing I know an officer enters, throws my wheelchair and me out of the way. I end up with the wheelchair on top of me, my legs in the air. Several officers continued to walk over me as they entered the house. I eventually rolled my way into the living room and got myself upright. I saw Juaquez surrounded by officers and started asking what was going on. I ended up in handcuffs. It wasn't until a family member came by later that I was able to get back into my wheelchair. I was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. I still have physical pain from that day."