The Austin Chronicle

Lawsuit Against APD Officers Alleges Civil Rights Violations

By Jordan Smith, June 29, 2007, News

On June 27, the family of 24-year-old Joseph Cruz, who was beaten and arrested last summer by Austin Police Department Officer Gary Griffin at an East Austin bus stop, filed a federal lawsuit against Griffin and his APD supervisors, arguing that Cruz was a victim of excessive force, assault, false detention, and malicious prosecution.

The lawsuit explains that Cruz, a schizophrenic, had fallen asleep at a bus stop on East Seventh while waiting for a ride home. Someone saw Cruz and, thinking he was ill, called EMS. Griffin, on patrol that night, was directed to meet EMS at the bus stop but was asked not to wake Cruz until paramedics arrived. Griffin disregarded that directive, the lawsuit alleges, and poked and prodded the sleeping Cruz until he woke, confused. Griffin then delivered a harsh beating to the groggy man who did not understand what was happening. Griffin struck Cruz repeatedly with his baton (using several strike methods not approved under APD policy), hurting Cruz's leg and breaking his nose, among other injuries. Paramedics apparently tried to make Griffin stop, but the officer refused. Cruz was ultimately arrested for assaulting a police officer, although he did not once raise a hand against Griffin, the lawsuit asserts. (The incident was recorded on Griffin's in-car camera, which recorded the officer acknowledging that he'd beaten Cruz and mocking the paramedics who tried to make him stop. "All that blood [on my baton] is from me punching him," Griffin said. "And the firemen were going, 'Oh stop, stop, stop!'")

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Cruz and his mother, Nora Tijerina, by Texas Civil Rights Project lawyer Wayne Krause, alleges Griffin then sought to cover up his unlawful use of force by falsely claiming Cruz had assaulted him. Griffin's claims formed the basis of Cruz's arrest and subsequent 10-week stint in jail, before the Travis Co. District Attorney's Office dropped the charges and recommended that Griffin's actions be investigated. In January, acting APD Chief Cathy Ellison fired Griffin and suspended three supervisors – Cpl. Andrew Haynes, Lt. Deborah Sawyer, and Cmdr. Michael Nyert – for signing off on Griffin's use of force as acceptable and within APD policy. In the federal lawsuit, Cruz names Haynes, Sawyer, and Nyert as defendants as well and claims their actions (or inactions) led to Cruz's false detention and malicious prosecution.

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