Naked City

APD settles Thornton suit

The federal civil rights lawsuit based on a complaint of excessive force brought by Jeffrey Thornton against APD Officer Michael Olsen settled for $31,000 on June 14. According to Thornton, he was near the corner of Sixth and Red River around 2:15am on June 20, 2002, when he saw Olsen responding to an altercation on the street. Thornton saw Olsen interacting with the crowd and made a comment to a friend that he didn't think Olsen's actions were appropriate. Olsen apparently heard the comments and responded by grabbing Thornton's arm and hauling him over to a squad car, where he was going to write him a ticket for being a "pedestrian in a roadway." Once at the car, though, Olsen struck Thornton's head against the car, causing him to fall and hit his head on the ground, the 23-year-old says.

In a police report – and later, during an interview with APD's Internal Affairs – Olsen told a different story, claiming that Thornton approached him and made hostile and derogatory comments about police. But IA investigators challenged that account with videotape of the incident caught by surveillance cameras outside the Texas Lottery Commission.

Olsen was suspended for 60 days, and in August, a Travis Co. grand jury indicted him for falsifying his police report. That indictment was later dropped after District Attorney Ronnie Earle's office concluded there was insufficient evidence to prosecute – the DA's office would be hard pressed to prove that Olsen's misstatements were actually intentional, First Assistant District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg opined in a January e-mail to Thornton's attorney Jim Harrington, executive director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, who filed a civil case in federal court last year. Olsen's attorney, state Rep. Terry Keel (R-Austin) argued that Thornton was actually part of the aggressive crowd that Olsen was controlling when Thornton was arrested, and that Olsen's reaction was routine and appropriate.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Michael Olsen, Jeffrey Thornton, Austin Police Department, APD, Jim Harrington, Ronnie Earle, civil rights, use of force, lawsuit

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