Officials in Austin are investigating the violent arrest of a black elementary school teacher who was body-slammed by a white police officer during a traffic stop.
The investigation comes after the emergence of police video footage showing not only the June 2015 arrest but also a scene afterward, when another white officer told the teacher that cops are wary of blacks because of their “violent tendencies” and “intimidating” appearance.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time … it is the black community that is being violent,” the officer tells her. “That’s why a lot of white people are afraid. And I don’t blame them.”
“My heart was sickened and saddened when I first learned of this incident,” said Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, adding that the video was “disturbing.”
“For those that think life is perfect for people of color, I want you to listen to that conversation and tell me we don’t have social issues in this nation,” Acevedo continued. “Issues of bias. Issues of racism. Issues of people being looked at different because of their color.”
The controversy comes as the country remains on edge over issues of race and law enforcement. Footage of fatal police encounters and their aftermaths in Louisiana and Minnesota this month helped revive protests over how law enforcement officer use deadly force, while the deadly shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge have spurred further fears among officers over the threats they face on the job.
The Austin video emerged a day after bystander footage showed Florida police aiming their weapons at an unarmed black man as he lay on the ground with his hands in the air. A North Miami police officer ultimately shot the man in the leg as he tried to help a young man with autism.
Prosecutors told the Statesman they first viewed the video about two weeks ago and will likely present the case to a grand jury.
The video also prompted them to dismiss a resisting arrest charge against the teacher, 26-year-old Breaion King.
King broke down as she talked about the day last summer she was body-slammed by police.
“I’ve become fearful to live my life,” she told the Statesman. “I would rather stay home. I’ve become afraid of the people who are supposed to protect me and take care of me.”
‘Oh my God. Why are you doing this to me?’
Austin police on Thursday screened two videos of the incident on June 15, 2015.
The first video, taken by officer Bryan Richter’s dashboard camera, begins around 12:30 p.m. with the officer parked near a busy Austin street.
King, on her lunch break, passes in her white Nissan Versa — traveling 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, according to Richter. He then pulls out and pursues her, activating his siren.
It’s unclear from the video if King is aware of the officer before she turns left into a parking lot.
As she climbs out of her car, Richter tells her to stop.
“Ma’am, you’re being pulled over right now, so I need you to take a seat back in your car,” he says.
“Are you serious?” King replies.
“Yes, ma’am,” he says. “I’m not joking. Can I see your driver’s license? You’re being stopped for speeding.”
“But I’m already stopped, so technically can you stop me?” King asks as she removes her license. “‘Cause you didn’t pull me over because I’m parked.”
“Ma’am, you were about to go inside without a wallet, so I know you were only coming here because you know I was coming to pull you over,” Richter responds. “I can absolutely pull you over if you are already stopped, yes. Let me see your driver’s license.”
Richter then asks her to put her feet inside the car so he can close the door.
(“I did this so that if she decided to exit the vehicle again, it would give me some sort of reaction time to her doing so, versus her being half way out of the vehicle with the door open giving her an easy escape,” he wrote in his report, according to the Statesman.)
“Could you please hurry up?” King says.
“Okay, ma’am, stand up for me,” Richter says, placing King’s license on top of her car and reaching inside after her.
“No, why are you grabbing me?” she shouts. “Oh my God.”
“Stop resisting,” the officer says multiple times as a struggle ensues — barely visible on the video — in the doorway of the car. At one point, the car horn blares as they tussle.
The officer then takes a step back and orders her to “get out of the car,” before calling for backup.
“I’m getting out,” she says. “Let me get out. Do not touch me.”
“Don’t touch me,” she says again as the cop reaches inside and grabs her.
“Get out of the car now,” he says, yanking her out of the vehicle and throwing her to the ground.
“Oh my God. Oh my God,” she screams. “Why are you doing this to me?”
Richter then orders her several times to put her hands behind her back.
“Oh my God. Are you serious?” King moans. “Oh my God.”
“I’m about to Tase you,” Richter says.
As he manages to get her hands behind her back, King stands up. Richter then tries to leg sweep, or trip, her. When that doesn’t work, he puts his arm around her neck.
There is a choking sound as the cop lifts the 112-pound woman into the air before slamming her down on the ground.
It appears as if King is partially able to break her fall with a hand and a foot.
The two continue to struggle.
“Put your hands behind your back,” Richter tells her.
“Would you let me get down please?” King says.
The cop then pushes his weight down onto her back.
“Put your hands behind your back,” he shouts.
“That’s what I was doing,” she says. “Are you serious? God.”
“Don’t stand up,” he tells her.
“I’m not trying to stand up,” she answers. “I’m trying to put my hands behind my back.”
“Are you serious,” she asks again as the officer puts her in handcuffs.
“Get up,” he says as he wrenches her up by her arms.
“Ow,” King says.
Another officer then appears on screen.
“Look at him,” King tells the second officer. “He’s treating me like sh––. I didn’t do anything.
“What are you doing?” she asks the officers as they put her up against the hood of Richter’s car and appear to search her. “I need a black police.”
“Walk,” Richter says, leading her off-screen by her arms, which are cuffed and pulled up behind her back at a roughly 90-degree angle.
“Why are my hands so high?” King asks.
“Stop fighting,” Richter can be heard saying.
“Jesus Christ,” he can be heard saying to another officer off-screen. “She has some fight in her. She didn’t agree I could pull her over when she was already parked.”
“So she came out of the car?” the other officer asks.
“Well, I told her to sit back down,” Richter tells his colleague. “And I kept telling her to get back in, close your door. ‘No.’ I said ‘All right, I’m just going to handcuff you and put you in the car. I’m not going to do this.’ And then she starts fighting.”
“You all right?” the other cop asks him. “You hurt? Injured?”
“No, I’m good,” Richter replies as King can be heard moaning.
Shortly afterward, another officer, apparently from a different agency, appears. He says he was on his way to Wendy’s when he saw the altercation.
“Just so you know, there was somebody out walking their dog who kept recording everything,” he tells Richter and the second Austin police officer.
“Did you see what happened?” the second officer asks.
“I just seen her resisting the whole time,” the officer from the other agency says, lifting his arm as if to demonstrate what King did.
“I never hit her,” Richter tells a third Austin police officer off-screen. “I didn’t want to hit her, man. She was fighting pretty good.”
The video ends with Richter joking that one of the other officers “jinxed” him.
The second video screened Thursday by Austin police begins roughly 50 minutes after the first one ends, according to time stamps.
It captures a three-minute conversation between King and another white officer, Patrick Spradlin, as he is transporting her in a police cruiser.
“Have you ever done a clean sweep of police where y’all just clear out all of the police system and start over?” she asks, shown in the video with her hands cuffed behind her back as she sits in the rear of the Spradlin’s car.
The officer says he’s heard of it but “fortunately” it’s never happened to him.
“But do you still believe that there is racism out there?” King asks
“Yes, I do,” the officer answers. “But let me ask you this: Do you believe it goes both ways?”
“I do,” she says. “But I believe that, I’m not going to lie. I believe that Caucasians have more supremacy than we do, they have more rights.”
“I don’t think that,” Spradlin says.
“A lot more people are a little afraid of black people because of everything, honestly…” King says.
“Let me ask you this,” Spradlin interrupts. “Why are so many people afraid of black people?”
“That’s what I want to figure out, because I’m not a bad black person,” King says.
“I can give you a really good idea, a really good idea why it might be that way,” he says. “Violent tendencies. I want you to think about that.
“I’m not saying anything, I’m not saying it’s true, I’m not saying I agree with it or nothing,” Spradlin says. “But 99 percent of the time, when you hear about stuff like that, it is the black community that is being violent. That’s why a lot of white people are afraid. And I don’t blame them.
“There are some guys I look at,” he continues. “I know it’s my job to deal with them and I know it’s probably going to get ugly and that’s the way it goes, but some of them because of their appearance and whatnot, some of them are very intimidating.”
“But do you ever wonder that you know black people are the majority of the time on the defense because they feel like they are not safe?” King asks.
“By no means am I saying that there is no racism, because I know there is, and everybody knows there is,” Spradlin says.
“But my question is, how do y’all know before you even hire a person that they are not a racist?” King asks.
“Oh, trust me,” Spradlin says. “There is a four-hour psych exam that we’ve got to go through. Four hours of psychological testing we go through prior to being hired. So yeah, there’s a lot to it.”
“So do you think later on they build a certain type of image about certain people after working, and then become racist?” she asks.
“Oh yeah,” he answers. “I’m sure.”
‘Is that the way I want my loved one treated?’
At the news conference Thursday, Chief Acevedo began by alluding to the intense national debate over race and policing.
“This is a journey we are in as a community, as a nation,” he said.
Acevedo, who is Hispanic, then offered an apology to King.
“I’m sorry that on the day you were stopped for going 15 mph, you were … treated in a manner that is not consistent with the expectations of this police chief, of most of the officers of this department, and most importantly, of all of us as human beings,” he said. “Police officers have a sworn duty to try to calm things down, approach incidents, approach people in a manner that enhances the probability that everyone gets to go on with their day, especially over a speeding ticket.”
Department policy requires officers to use the minimum amount of force necessary in dealing with suspects, the Statesman noted. Its policy also states officers “will not express or otherwise manifest any prejudice concerning race, religion, national origin, age, political affiliation, sex or other personal characteristics in the performance of their duties.”
For his use of force, Richter received counseling and training, the lowest level of discipline, according to the newspaper. Spradlin was not punished at all because his comments only came to light a year later during Statesman reporter Tony Plohetski’s investigation.
Acevedo said his hands were tied in terms of further punishment he could dole out: he cannot issue more than a written reprimand since the incident occurred over six months ago.
According to KVUE, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg ordered the charge against King dropped as soon as she saw the video of the teacher being slammed to the ground. King already paid a $165 fine and court costs for speeding.
Lehmberg’s office, with the assistance of the Austin police department’s Special Investigations Unit, is investigating the case. The district attorney’s office said it would likely go before a grand jury, the television station reported.
King told the Statesman that her arrest was bewildering.
“It happened really fast,” she told the newspaper. “I wasn’t given enough time.”
During his news conference, Acevedo lamented that the video had overshadowed the good work done by many of his officers. He also said, however, that the video “speaks for itself” and that any officers not shocked by it needed to “check their hearts.”
“I’ve asked my own people to look at these videos and ask, ‘Am I approaching a 15 mph speeding ticket like that?’ ” he said. ” ‘Is that the way I want my loved one treated?’ ”