AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two years after the video gained nationwide attention, a lawsuit has now been filed against the Austin Police Department for pepper spraying a man on Sixth Street.
The suit, filed by Carlos Amaya’s attorney, charges excessive force and illegal search and seizure for the events that occurred on June 6, 2015.
The video, which APD formally investigated, shows a mounted patrol officer grab the phone from Amaya, who was in the crowd recording a disturbance. Another officer uses what appears to be pepper spray on him.
According to the suit, Amaya said he was recording an incident where five police officers jumped on a man who was fighting with another man. While he was filming, Amaya said he tried to back up as the mounted patrol arrived but he was surrounded by a crowd. As he was standing there, Amaya said a horse hit him and knocked him back and a second one ran him over. That’s when an officer on a third horse came by and “snatched” the phone out of his hand. When he tried to reach for his phone, Amaya said the female officer sprayed him with the pepper spray.
KXAN spoke with Amaya Wednesday, in what was his first interview since the incident. Amaya, who was working as a DJ at a club on Sixth Street that night, says he was just trying to capture the altercation on his cell phone.
“At that point in time, there was a lot of stuff going on with like the police, Ferguson, and things like that so I just did what anybody else would do and pulled out my phone,” said Amaya. “I was a bystander. I was on a cigarette break from a set. I got a couple minutes anyways, I might as well film this before I gotta go back inside and I had to go finish my set with pepper-sprayed eyes and I could barely breathe.”
In the suit, Amaya’s attorney claims, because of the pepper spray, his asthma was aggravated, forcing him to seek medical attention.
Amaya says he doesn’t understand why the officer used pepper spray against him.
“They need to defend themselves. I understand that. I am all for self-defense but, it has to be defensive,” he explained.
The lawsuit also argues the APD officers’ actions were “objectively unreasonable” and that they were performed “maliciously, intentionally, and sadistically” to cause Amaya harm.
Amaya says he wants to see policy changes at the Austin Police Department. “At the very least, that should have already happened.”
KXAN sat down with Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday who says not much policy has changed since the incident. However, he says things have improved downtown.
“The only thing that’s really changed is the amount of officers down there. There’s a lot more,” said Casaday. “They have a new commander down there that has really worked hard with them, trying to make it a more officer-friendly environment down there and he’s done a fantastic job.”
Casaday says it all comes back to staffing levels. “Since then, all of the shifts down there have been fully staffed. It just took time to hire the people and to move the people around to where they needed to be,” Casaday said.
He added, concerning the use of pepper spray that a police officer’s tools — including handcuffs, pepper spray, their firearm, a night stick, and stun gun — can be critical, especially in downtown Austin.
“The more tools that you have on your tool belt, the better off you are. You try to deescalate the best you can, but sometimes you end up in a situation where deescalation goes out the door,” said Casaday.
“With the explosive growth downtown — skyscrapers that are being built downtown with a lot of it being housing — there’s just going to be a lot more people that need police services, and that’s not even including talking about the issues on Sixth Street or Rainey Street, and down at the ARCH. Dealing with all those issues, they stay very busy.”
Casaday estimates that APD is still 160 officers short but says that there are two academy classes going on right now with more than 130 people in them. He says by the end of 2017, the department expects to be nearly fully-staffed.
Amaya is seeking compensation for physical and emotional injury due to personal humiliation and shock.
A city spokesperson told KXAN they have not been served with the lawsuit but they’re aware of the incident and are prepared to the defend the city.
If interested in reading APD’s policy manual, click here.