City Graciously Gives Family $200k After They Are Attacked By Gang Members

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NY Times:
$200,000 Settlement for Texas Man Pepper-Sprayed While Recording Son’s Traffic Stop

Azi Paybarah

An alleged racial profiling of a Latino man quickly escalated and led to the demotion of a police sergeant.

A city in Texas has agreed to a $200,000 settlement of a lawsuit alleging civil rights violations and police brutality brought by a man who was pepper-sprayed twice while recording his son during a traffic stop over the summer.

The city of Keller, which is about 30 miles northwest of Dallas, announced on Sunday that it was “pleased” with the agreement, which still needs to be signed by all parties and filed with the court.

The city will pay $5,000 toward the settlement, with the remainder to be paid by the Texas Municipal League Intergovernmental Risk Pool, with whom the city of Keller has an insurance policy, the city said.

The man who sued, Marco Puente, 39, was happy with the settlement, according to one of his lawyers, Scott H. Palmer. “A quick result is obviously worth it to him, to move on and get this past him,” he said in an interview, adding that Mr. Puente has “accomplished his goals of holding them accountable and shedding a spotlight on police brutality.”

After the Aug. 15 episode, one of the two officers named in the lawsuit was demoted. In addition, Chief Brad Fortune of the Keller Police Department announced several policy changes including providing more frequent reports of police activity to local lawmakers and requiring supervisors to review body and dashboard camera footage recorded by officers.

Robert J. Davis, a lawyer for the two officers named in the lawsuit, declined to comment.

The federal lawsuit, filed last month in the Northern District of Texas, accused the officers of excessive force as well as unlawful arrest and retaliatory arrest.

The suit also accused one of the officers of racially profiling Mr. Puente’s 22-year-old son, Dillon. The Puentes are Hispanic, and the city of Keller is 87 percent white, according to census figures.

After the suit was filed, Marco Puente said in an interview that even though he grew up in Keller and had family there, he and his son shared a feeling that “every time you see a cop, it’s: Is this cop going to pull us over? Are they going to target us? Do they know who we are?”

In August, Mr. Puente and his son were driving in separate cars on their way to a relative’s house. Dillon was pulled over by Blake Shimanek, who was a sergeant at the time, for making an improper wide right turn, according to the lawsuit.

Footage from Officer Shimanek’s body camera shows Dillon being asked to step out of the car and then quickly handcuffed. The footage shows his father recording the encounter with his smartphone from his truck, and Officer Shimanek yelling that Mr. Puente was obstructing the roadway and threatening him with arrest.

When a second officer, Ankit Tomer, arrived, Officer Shimanek directed him to arrest Mr. Puente.

A photo included in the lawsuit shows Officer Shimanek putting Mr. Puente in a headlock. Mr. Puente was then pepper-sprayed, according to video footage, with Officer Tomer removing Mr. Puente’s sunglasses before spraying him a second time.

After being sprayed, handcuffed and placed in a patrol car, Mr. Puente repeatedly asked, to no avail, for help, according to the lawsuit. He asked for the irritant to be wiped from his eyes, and said he had trouble breathing, it said.

After pulling into the sally port of the jail, Officer Tomer stopped the car and got out. Later, when the officer opened the car door again, Mr. Puente could be heard screaming, “I’m begging you man, please!”

At the jail, Mr. Puente sat for seven minutes pleading for help as Officer Tomer “stood outside the vehicle having a casual conversation with other officers,” according to the lawsuit. Those seven minutes “amounted to pure torture,” it said.

Mr. Puente was charged with resisting arrest and interference with public duties, Mr. Palmer, his lawyer, said. He was released the night he was arrested, and the charges were later dropped.

Dillon Puente was arrested and taken to jail on charges of making an improper wide right turn. He was later released after paying a fine, Mr. Palmer said.

On Sept. 8, Chief Fortune said evidence supported the allegation that Officer Shimanek had arrested Marco Puente for offenses he did not commit. Officer Shimanek was demoted to officer from his previous rank of sergeant with the opportunity to reapply to the position after one year.

Officer Tomer was not disciplined.

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