Cops in Austin, Texas, were caught on video dragging a homeless woman, who had allegedly been sleeping, across the pavement while one punched her eight times.
“One officer held [her] down and covered his body-worn camera while the other officer brutally kneed [her] in her side,” according to a lawsuit the woman has since filed against the city and the two arresting officers.
On the day of the woman’s arrest—which the local county attorney declined to prosecute—a security guard called the police after noticing that she was camping outside a strip mall in Austin, according to court records from her criminal case.
The 26-year-old mentally ill woman had refused to leave when asked several times and grew verbally aggressive, according to an arrest affidavit. A responding officer warned her that she’d be arrested if the security guard wanted to place a criminal trespass notice and she didn’t vacate the property, at which point she cursed at the security guard and cop while refusing further commands, according to the arrest affidavit.
The officer then called for backup due to her “aggressive verbal behavior,” according to the affidavit.
“I ain’t doing anything wrong, bitch boy,” she responded. The arrest affidavit also accuses her of scratching at or striking one officer’s face, screaming, and kicking.
The lawsuit, however, argues that the woman didn’t pose a threat to anyone and was just scared of the officers. And by beating her, they allegedly violated her constitutional rights. The lawsuit also alleges Austin cops are trained to treat unhoused people like “vermin.”
“It is not reasonable for a highly trained and lethally armed police officer to interpret an unarmed, fearful, cornered, impoverished, mentally ill young woman calling him ‘bitch boy’ from a prone position on the pavement as an attack,” the lawsuit alleges.
The woman was initially charged with resisting arrest and criminal trespass. She’s currently staying in a motel, paid for by people in the mutual aid community, according to her attorney, Rebecca Webber, who also sits on the city’s Public Safety Commission.
“The city of Austin’s policies in regards to mentally ill unhoused people are unconstitutional—full stop,” Webber said. “You cannot beat a person because they are lying down.”
In 2018, a former police cadet also alleged to the local Austin American-Statesman that police academy instructors had told cadets they’d be punched in the face if they wanted to be police officers to help people. Another former cadet told the paper that instructors referred to homeless people as “cockroaches.”
In a statement about the homeless woman’s October arrest, the Austin Police Department said property owners and their representatives are permitted to seek help from cops when “addressing trespassers on the private property,” after asking the individual to leave and giving them a warning. If they refuse, officers typically explain again that the person has to leave or face arrest.
“If an officer must respond to resistance by the trespasser, APD [Austin Police Department] has a robust force review process in place to determine whether the force complies with policy and state law,” the police department said in a statement. “Such a review of the response to resistance utilized during the arrest of [the woman] did occur, and it was determined that the response to resistance complied with the law and with APD policies.”
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