A former police officer who was captured on video tackling, dragging and pinning a 15-year-old girl to the ground at a pool party in 2015 is now facing a civil rights lawsuit accusing him of using excessive and unnecessary force on the teenager.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Texas last month, 19 months after the video set off protests and reignited a nationwide debate on how police treat African Americans. The teen, Dajerria Becton, who is black, and her legal guardian, Shashona Becton, are seeking $5 million in damages from the former officer, the city of McKinney and the McKinney Police Department over the June 2015 incident.
The Bectons are accusing then-McKinney Police Cpl. Eric Casebolt, who is white, of assaulting and unlawfully detaining Dajerria Becton while she was at a pool party in a subdivision in McKinney, a suburb of Dallas. They’re alleging that the city of McKinney and its police department, which are also named as defendants, failed to adequately train officers on using force, particularly in confrontations involving juveniles, and to implement any policies regarding such incidents.
The video, which captured a chaotic scene at the subdivision, shows Casebolt pulling the teen by her hair and dragging her to the ground. As the girl sat on the grass, wearing a bright orange and yellow two-piece bathing suit, she told people to call her mother. Casebolt then dragged her by her left arm and shoved her head against the grass twice.
“On your face!” he said as loud screams could be heard in the background.
According to the complaint, Casebolt placed his knees on the girl’s back and neck as she was lying facedown on the ground. The teen, weighing no more than 100 pounds, cried in pain, the lawsuit claims. Her attorney, Kim Cole, said Becton suffered injuries to her neck and back and abrasions on different parts of her body.
Cole said that no amount of money is “great enough” to compensate her young client for how the incident has affected her life. After the video went viral, Becton, who turned 17 this month, was bullied by racists on social media, Cole said.
“She’s very sensitive,” Cole told The Washington Post. “She has experienced a ridiculous amount of cyberbullying. You’d be surprised. She’s in high school. She’s trying, struggling, to maintain some sense of normalcy.”
Casebolt’s attorney, Jim Jeffrey, wrote in an email to The Post that he’s confident the court system “will correctly apply governing legal standards” and that he’s looking forward to “successfully defending” Casebolt, who resigned shortly after the video went viral.
In a brief statement, the city of McKinney and its police department denied the allegations that they don’t provide adequate training to officers.
“McKinney prides itself in cultivating the highest standards of training and professionalism for our officers, and it strongly believes that its standards and training will withstand legal challenge,” the statement said.
The incident happened June 5, 2015, when Casebolt, along with a few other officers, responded to a call about a disturbance at the pool party. Cole said there was a fight between a woman and a teenager who was hosting the party.
The video shows Casebolt running and telling a group of young men, all of whom are black, to get on the ground.
“Don’t make me f—ing run around here with 30 pounds of f—ing gear in the sun,” he told them as they sat on the grass.
Casebolt then walked over to a group of girls, including Becton, and screamed at them to leave. After the girls walked in separate directions, Casebolt pulled the teen and dragged her to the ground.
“Get your a– on the ground!” he screamed.
At some point, he drew his gun on two male teenagers who walked toward Becton and immediately ran away.
The complaint alleges that Casebolt had no reason to single out Becton, because eyewitnesses did not see her doing anything wrong.
“There is no evidence that Defendant Casebolt was in imminent danger,” the complaint says. “There were no signs of any visible injuries or bruising to Defendant Casebolt’s body that would indicate that the use of excessive force was justified.”
McKinney Police Chief Greg Conley said earlier that Casebolt’s actions were “indefensible.”
“As the video shows, he was out of control during the incident,” Conley said. “I do not condone the actions of those individuals who violated the rules of the community and showed disrespect to the security personnel on the scene and officers.”
Charges against another teenager, the only person arrested that day, have been dropped.
Jane Bishkin, Casebolt’s attorney at that time, told reporters at a news conference that the officer had responded to two suicide calls before arriving at the party.
“With all that had happened that day, he allowed his emotions to get the better of him,” Bishkin said at a news conference. “Eric regrets his conduct portrayed him and his department in a negative light. He never intended to mistreat anyone.”
After the incident, protesters and civil rights groups called not only for Casebolt’s resignation but also for criminal charges against him. The 10-year veteran of the McKinney Police Department resigned while he was under investigation. A grand jury has declined to indict him.
Cole, the teen’s attorney, said she didn’t expect to have to file a lawsuit.
She had proposed an agreement that would require the city to pay the teen and her family $2.5 million to avoid litigation. The city, she said, declined to take the deal.
“I sincerely had hoped that the city of McKinney would acknowledge the damages that were caused by the officer and do something, some effort to rectify the situation,” Cole said. “To date, there has been no effort made whatsoever.”
The teen and her legal guardian are asking for damages for pain, suffering, mental anguish and loss of quality of life.
The $5 million the plaintiffs are seeking does not include legal fees, Cole said.
Peter Holley and Elahe Izadi contributed to this story.