Lawsuit filed against APD officers claiming 'brutal excessive force' during mental health crisis


An Austin man has filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin and three Austin Police Department (APD) officers.

The lawsuit filed by James Edward Johnson said APD officers used excessive force while he was experiencing a mental health crisis.

"Rather than calmly talking with the distraught young man who was wearing only boxer shorts, the officers rushed and attacked him," the lawsuit states.

According to body cam footage, officers tasered Johnson while he was thrown on the ground and beat his head into the ground, leaving him bloodied with a broken jaw.

The incident happened in August 2021 and Johnson's lawyer is seeking damages because of what he experienced both physically and emotionally. 

Body cam footage showed officers trying to convince Johnson to step into the hall. He was known for having chronic mental illness, his mother had made a call to 911 that night afraid he might hurt himself.

An Austin man has filed a lawsuit against three Austin Police Department (APD) officers for excessive use of force.

The video shows the officers trying to convince Johnson to come out of his apartment into the hall to talk with them, but he argues. Things escalated when he stepped back into his room.

"Rather than de-escalate the situation and kind of calmly talk with him and just encourage him to respond to them, they rushed him and used a taser in what I would describe as a brutal fashion," said Johnson’s attorney, Jeff Edwards with Edwards Law.

Body camera footage shows officers tasing Johnson and yelling at Johnson to get on his stomach. 

"Any time force is used it never looks good," said retired APD officer Wayne Vincent. "But if they were letting him get back into the apartment and lock the door, now you've got a barricaded, suicidal subject."

However, Johnson’s lawyer says the extent of the force was unnecessary.

"It is the equivalent of treating anyone who's entering a mental health crisis as some sort of violent criminal," he said.

Later on in the video, Johnson is seen trying to move his arm as officers are handcuffing him. That’s when one of the officers punches him multiple times and another tases him again.

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An Austin man has filed a lawsuit against three Austin Police Department (APD) officers for excessive use of force.

Photos shared with FOX 7 show Johnson with a bloodied face and broken jaw. His lawyer said he still suffers from some issues with eating and swallowing along with PTSD from the incident.

Beyond the damages listed in the lawsuit, Edwards asked for change when it comes to police training and accountability.

"You actually demean the many good officers and belittle their accomplishments when you justify this type of brutal, excessive force," said Edwards. "What type of message does it say to not discipline these officers to others who may be in a position where they're watching excessive force, and they know they should stop it, but they also know that that leadership will defend anything?"

However, as someone who served as an APD officer for three decades, Vincent said you can’t take chances if someone’s not complying, and a mental health crisis is no exception.

"You don't know the capability of an individual you're about to use force on," said Vincent. "There is no magic behavioral trick you can use to get a noncompliant to become compliant, so although folks like to say you can send professionals in there, and it would decrease or eliminate any use of force necessity, that's just not the case."

APD does not comment on pending litigation. FOX 7 Austin reached out to the city, and they shared a statement:

"We’ve not yet been served but stand ready to defend the City and its officers in response to this lawsuit."