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When Aundre Howard, a Black man, fled from Houston police during a traffic stop in 2019, one of the officers was caught on body camera footage telling his partner to “shoot his ass” as they pursued. When that officer finally caught up to Howard, he used a pair of handcuffs wrapped around his left hand like a pair of brass knuckles to repeatedly punch the fleeing man in the back of the head.
Now, the former police officer is facing prison time.
Lucas Vieira, 31, a four-year-veteran with the Houston Police Department, was indicted by a Harris County District Court grand jury on July 9. Two days later, the Houston Police Department announced that it had fired Vieira months ago, in April. If convicted, he faces up to 99 years in prison as well as a $10,000 fine.
The indictment also comes just over three months after Howard, 34, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing Vieira of unjustly striking him and of violating his right to unjust search and due process.
“Mr. Howard suffered great pain, contusions, humiliation, anxiety, fear, loss of sleep, headaches, and other mental anguish as a result of the defendant’s actions,” according to the lawsuit, which was provided to VICE News by Howard’s attorney, Randall Kallinen.
“My client is very pleased that the officer was indicted because it validates what he’s been concerned about for a while,” Kallinen told VICE News. “He does feel better that when officers injure people like himself, they do have to face justice just like anybody else would.”
The encounter with police occurred July 7, 2019, when Vieira initiated a stop on Howard’s vehicle for a traffic violation. According to Vieira’s attorney James Siscoe, police noticed marijuana on Howard’s center console when they first approached the car during the traffic stop, prompting a search. Police placed Howard in handcuffs, but they found nothing. As Officer Serrano began to put on rubber gloves for a cavity search, Howard began to run from police toward a nearby freeway, according to the lawsuit.
As he pursued, Vieira screamed out “just fucking shoot his ass, shoot his ass,” and belts out gun shots noises, according to police body camera footage.
The chase only lasted one city block before Vieria caught up with Howard, who’d pooped his pants he was so afraid, according to the lawsuit. The officer then allegedly used his handcuffs as “brass knuckles” and bashed Howard in the back of the head at least three times. Howard, who says he fled in fear of his life, can be heard telling officers “alright, you got it!” as Vieira throws the punches, according to body camera footage.
Siscoe says his client only hit Howard in the shoulder and that only one of the hits managed to strike the man in the head. He also says that Serrano found 18 grams of cocaine immediately next to where officers caught up with Howard.
When Howard was brought back to the vehicle, the officers on the scene—Vieira’s partner Thomas Serrano and officer Nadeem Aslam, who are also named in the lawsuit— pulled down his pants, exposing his buttocks and genitalia to passersby and made fun of him as he lay there covered in feces.
The lawsuit also alleges that the officers pushed his arms over his head from behind as a pain technique as he lay there handcuffed and defenseless.
“Despite knowing about Vieira’s and other HPD officer’s policy violations, no officer reported any other officer nor was an [Internal Affairs Division] complaint filed by any officer,” the lawsuit alleges.
Howard was initially charged with felony evading arrest and possession of cocaine, but those charges were dropped, according to Houston Public Media.
Vieira’s attorney, James Siscoe, says that his client was unjustly indicted. Not only was he not allowed to present evidence to the grand jury, Vieira’s superiors reviewed the available bodycam footage at the time and concluded that his actions were justified.
“By taking immediate and decisive action in response to Howard’s reckless and dangerous actions, Lucas and his partner probably saved both Howard’s life and possibly that of other motorists on the freeway,” Siscoe said.
Howard’s lawsuit also lists Sgt. Earl Attebury, who arrived after Howard was back in police custody and didn’t reprimand Vieira after he allegedly admitted to using force, as well as former chief of police Art Acevedo, and the city of Houston.
Howard is seeking damages for the pain, suffering and mental anguish he experienced as a result of this encounter, according to the lawsuit. He also says that the defendants are liable for punitive damages as well as his attorney fees relating to the case.