DALLAS -- The city of Dallas has paid million of dollars in settlements over allegations of police brutality in recent years.
Officers have been indicted. They have been fired. But for the first time that anyone can recall in recent memory, a former Dallas police officer is on trial over allegations that he beat up a motorist.
Former Dallas police officer Quaitemes Wiliams faces up to a year in jail if convicted of the Class A misdemeanor. He is accused of kicking and pepper spraying Rodarick Lyles as he lay handcuffed and defenseless on the ground in the early morning hours of Jan. 28, 2011.
George Milner, Williams’ attorney, accused police and prosecutors of Monday-morning quarterbacking and said the former officer was confronted with a difficult, resisting suspect and acted in the heat of the moment.
“What you’re seeing is a continued effort to second guess police officers who are out there risking their lives,” Milner said.
Other Dallas police officers testified Thursday on behalf of the prosecution, saying they believed the force used by Williams was excessive. Lyles also testified, and prosecutors walked him step by step through a dash-cam video recording of the encounter.
The video shows Lyles driving down Abrams Road when Officer Hiram Soler pulled him over.
“I was going to go get my girlfriend some gas,” Lyles testified.
Soler stopped Lyles because the car’s license plate belonged to another car. Soler checked Lyles' ID and found that he had outstanding traffic warrants and a suspended license. Soler said he called for backup because Lyles seemed upset.
About 20 minutes elapsed and then the officers approached the car to take Lyles into custody. Lyles testified that he told the officers that he needed to be restrained with two pairs of handcuffs, because of his large size.
Soler said Lyles didn’t say that, but told them, “You can’t do me like this and turns around [...] I was in the process of putting one on his arm, and that’s when he turned around and jerks his arms away from me. I tried to grab one of his arms again. I couldn’t, and Officer Wiliams was able to get ahead of him.”
A brief struggle ensued as Lyles tried to pull away. The 5-foot-6, 275-pound Lyles went down, falling on top of Williams. Lyles said he was tripped by one of the officers, though the video does not show it.
“I start getting hit in the face,” Lyles said.
The video shows Williams punched Lyles several times as he tried to get the heavy Lyles off of him. Williams then grabbed a flashlight, hitting Lyles with it. Officer Edward Cruz Done took it away from him.
“At that time, in my personal opinion, I thought it was unnecessary,” to hit Lyles with the flashlight, Cruz Done said. “He was mad because the person was calling him names. He was cursing a lot to him.”
At that point, Williams was lying on his stomach, handcuffed.
“He’s defenseless,” Soler testified.
He and another officer pushed Williams away. Soler said Williams was irate, and that he and Lyles were arguing.
While Soler and Cruz Done were distracted, Williams walked back over to Lyles, who was still lying face down and handcuffed on the ground. Williams pepper sprayed Lyles.
“It hurt real bad,” Lyles said.
The video then shows that Williams kicked Lyles in the head. Asked how it felt, Williams replied, “Not good at all.”
Officer Rickey Upshaw arrived on scene toward the end of the encounter. He confronted Williams about his behavior, and Williams got upset about it. Williams had to be pulled away from Upshaw. Upshaw later informed supervisors, who reviewed the squad car’s dash-cam footage.
En route to the jail, Lyles said Williams kept telling him to shut him up.
“I said, ‘Why did you have to do me like this?'” Lyles said.
He testified that when they got to the jail, Williams yanked him out of the squad car by his handcuffs because Lyles wasn’t getting out quickly enough. He said that further injured his shoulder.
Lyles said he spent several days in jail. The charges of resisting arrest and driving with a suspended license were later dismissed. Lyles said he later had surgery on the shoulder, which he said was injured in the incident. He testified he was later diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and that to this day, he’s not comfortable around police officers as a result of the confrontation.
Lyles had never been arrested or charged previously with a felony or a violent crime.
In his cross examination of Lyles, Milner questioned his truthfulness and framed him as someone who doesn’t see himself as subject to the rules, noting that Lyles was driving a car without the correct license plate, with a suspended license, and without insurance.
He accused Lyles of lying about being tripped and fabricating his account of Williams yanking him out of the squad car by handcuffs. Milner pointed out that there’s no surveillance video from the jail showing that occurred.
Milner questioned the severity of his injuries, asking Lyles why he didn’t mention to paramedics and the nurse that he had an injured shoulder. Lyles testified that he was in so much pain from the pepper spray that he wasn’t focused on his other injuries.
“My chest was burning,” Williams said. “I couldn’t breathe.”
Milner also questioned Lyles on why he initially refused to sign a sworn statement when Dallas police detectives first tried to interview him about two-and-a-half weeks after the encounter.
“I was scared," Lyles responded. "I didn’t know what to do.”
He returned the following day and gave a written statement.
“At some point, did it occur to you that you can’t get some money out of this?” Milner asked Lyles.
“I didn’t know nothing about that,” Lyles said.
In court, District Judge Michael Snipes questioned one of the jurors after he admitted to a bailiff that he had overheard portions of the coverage on TV. He said that he had heard that Williams was fired and that the city paid a $500,000 settlement. The juror said he would not let what he had heard affect his decision-making.
Milner said he accepted the juror’s word that he could be fair. Prosecutors asked the judge to remove the juror. Snipes said he had concerns about leaving the juror on the panel, but agreed to do so, after Milner said he would waive any right to it as an appellate issue.
The trial resumes Friday.