Media Contact

Sam Petto, ACLU of Nebraska Communications Director

June 30, 2021

Makayla and Lafayette pose for a photograph together. Lafayette wears an ACLU t-shirt reading "Black Futures Matter."

LINCOLN, Neb. – An Omaha mother is turning to the courts for accountability after an Omaha Police officer arrested her in a house full of family and friends on Thanksgiving for charges that were later dismissed.

Makayla Townsell, represented by the ACLU of Nebraska, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Officer Ryan Keele today. The lawsuit argues the officer violated her civil rights when he subjected her to excessive force and arrested her without probable cause. The filing comes after Makayla Townsell lodged a citizen complaint and received a letter from Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer indicating he had reviewed evidence supporting her concerns and that Keele would be disciplined.

The situation played out in front of Makayla Townsell’s family and friends during their Thanksgiving dinner in 2019.

Keele and his partner arrived at Makayla Townsell’s home to conduct a welfare check on her then 17-year-old, Lafayette Townsell, after receiving a Child Protective Services tip. Lafayette Townsell acknowledged they had been arguing but told officers the situation was resolved.

Even though the teen never alleged abuse when speaking privately with the officers, Makayla Townsell said Keele grew agitated when his partner stepped away to look in the teen’s room and suddenly declared she was under arrest for child abuse and resisting arrest.

The lawsuit describes Keele grabbing Makayla Townsell’s arm, brandishing a taser as her children - including her toddler - cried in fear, and then handcuffing her in front of the family before taking her to jail.

“Since I brought them into this world, I have done everything to try to protect my children,” Makayla Townsell said. “In that moment I felt powerless, and I couldn’t protect them. I had no control over the situation. The lack of consideration for my children and for my rights was appalling. The police are supposed to protect and serve, and I felt none of that. It was a traumatic experience and still is. I want justice for my family and myself. There has to be accountability.”

After she bonded out of jail, Makayla Townsell requested Keele’s investigative report and found inaccurate statements including details of their conversation and a claim that she had attempted “to flee in the house.” She documented her concerns with the Omaha Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit and then successfully advocated to have her charges dismissed.

In February 2020, Makayla Townsell received a letter from Schmaderer confirming that an “investigation found evidence to support the allegations of events as you described; therefore, the allegations are sustained. The case file is being forwarded to the officers’ chain of command for a recommendation of discipline.” The letter contained no details on the evidence, nor the discipline Keele would face. In the same month, Townsell received a letter from the Department of Health and Human Services finding the allegation of neglect she faced was “unfounded.”

Makayla Townsell is now suing to vindicate her constitutional rights. 

ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Adam Sipple said a lot of harm could have been avoided if Keele had respected the family’s rights.

“Makayla was working hard to make a special Thanksgiving dinner for her friends and family,” Sipple said. “While doing so, as any parent of a teenager can relate to, a family argument happened. A family conflict between parents and teenagers should never be an invitation to be subjected to excessive force, arrested, and hauled away from your family. Officer Keele’s actions were unreasonable, and it is important for the court to recognize and vindicate our client’s constitutional rights.”

The lawsuit seeks a finding that Makayla Townsell’s rights were violated and requests damages as the Court sees fit.