Here’s a riddle: How many excessive force settlements does a police officer have against him before he’s removed? The answer: In Austin, Texas, apparently, three such settlements aren’t enough to force a cop to leave the job.
Officer Eric Copeland was sued three times for brutality. On November 9, 2017, the Austin City Council agreed to pay $150K to Copeland’s latest victim, an 18-year old man he tasered after taking off the man’s handcuffs and allowing him to leave Copeland’s police car.
There was video available, and it showed the young man leaving the vehicle when Copeland apparently decided tasering would get him out of the car faster. In the video, Copeland asked the man if he were on medication for “mental retardation” and accused him of being overweight.
The man was taken to the hospital and treated for upper body injuries and a broken nose. The latter injury resulted when Copeland threw his considerable weight on top of the prone teenager after he left the squad car.
Copeland apparently faked the facts when filling out a supplemental report on the teenager’s arrest, or, as officials put it, “fabricated facts.”
How was Copeland punished for this transgression? He was suspended for 90 days, and then permitted back on the job.
Perhaps third time is the charm and Copeland will finally get the boot if he uses excessive force against another party. As an aside, Copeland has only been on the Austin police force for eight years.
A Fatal Shooting
Back in 2012, Copeland shot and killed Ahmede Bradley, 37, during a routine traffic stop. Bradley, who had a long history of drug use, left the scene in his vehicle, then ran away on foot.
Copeland proceeded to strike the man in the head, face and body, although Bradley had not hit the cop. He then shot the unarmed man in the chest three times.
The whole tragic episode was caught on video.
The Austin Chronicle reported at the time, “Among the questions likely to be raised is whether Copeland should have pursued Bradley after pulling him over for only a minor traffic violation. The decision to pursue a fleeing suspect when no apparent exigent circumstances were present was among the issues raised in the 2007 shooting of Kevin Brown. Sgt. Michael Olsen was terminated for that deadly encounter.” Copeland broke his finger in the melee and was put on administrative leave with pay by the department while the investigation went on.
Bradley’s family sued Copeland and another officer as well as the city, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals determined it should not move forward and it was dismissed in 2016. Copeland was never indicted.
Beating a Man Calling 911
Earlier, in 2011, Copeland and his partner, Russell Rose, used excessive force against Carlos Chacon. Chacon was on the phone speaking to a 911 dispatcher at the time. He had called to report suspicious activity at a Motel 6.
Chacon believed he had hired a masseuse, but when he met with the woman she told him she couldn’t give him a massage but would perform a sex act – which was not what he had intended. He made the 911 call to report a prostitution ring at the motel.
When he encountered the officers, he attempted to identify himself as the person who was trying to notify the police. That didn’t matter to Copeland and Rose – they pointed their guns at him, and then beat and tasered Chacon for “resisting arrest.”
Once again, the event was recorded on video.
In March, 2015, a federal jury awarded Chacon $1 million, but the amount was later reduced to $60k by a federal judge. During the trial, expert witness Dr. George Kirkham, a Florida criminologist, testified on Chacon’s behalf.
He said the actions of Rose and Copeland were “contrary to standard police practices and procedures, and that their force used was objectively unreasonable.”
Did Video Cameras Make a Difference?
The widespread use of dash cams and other police video equipment was supposed to make officers think twice about using excessive force. The presence of video cameras obviously had little effect on Copeland. In his case, the videos’ only saving grace was that they proved the plaintiffs’ point.
Based on his record, another excessive force allegation is likely to come up in Copeland’s future. The City of Austin should decide whether having such an officer in the Austin police department is worth the risk – and costs to taxpayers – Copeland entails.
Successful lawsuits and media attention are the only way to stop police brutality and excessive use of force. If you or a family member are a victim of outrageous police misconduct, you have the right to sue for compensation.
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