Members of an Omaha family filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that excessive force and a warrantless search and seizure were used in response to a parking incident in March 2013.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

 

Attorney(s)

Amy Miller (ACLU of NE)

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Diana J. Vogt of Sherrets, Bruno & Vogt

Date filed

January 6, 2014

Court

United States District Court for the State of Nebraska

Status

In federal trial court

Case number

8:14-cv-00004

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