Lucas Vieira, who was fired from the force on April 16, was indicted by a Harris County grand jury on Friday for aggravated assault in connection with the July 7, 2019, traffic stop of 34-year-old Aundre Howard, who is Black.
The indictment comes three months after Howard filed an excessive force lawsuit against the three officers involved in his “humiliation” after, he says, he was pulled over with a friend for expired car registration. During the incident, also captured on police body-cam footage, Howard was handcuffed and searched before he began to flee, apparently in terror.
“Just fucking shoot his ass,” Vieira, 31, is heard telling his colleague, officer Thomas Serrano, in body-camera footage, according to Howard’s legal team.
According to the lawsuit filed by Howard, the demand scared him so much he defecated on himself before he was once again restrained and beaten in the back of the head “at least three times” with handcuffs.
“The officers then put the handcuffed Mr. Howard on the ground and pulled down his pants where passersby could see Mr. Howard’s buttocks with the feces and genitals all the while making fun of Mr. Howard about the defecation,” the lawsuit—which names the city of Houston, Serrano, Nadeem Aslam, and Sgt. Earl Attebury—claims.
The suit alleges that the other officers watched Vieira degrade and abuse Howard but did nothing to intervene in the incident that sent him to the hospital. Howard was also initially charged with evading arrest and possessing a controlled substance after the arrest, but the charges were dismissed in January.
Serrano, Aslam, and Attebury continue to be on duty with the department, a Houston Police spokesperson told The Daily Beast. Acknowledging Vieira’s indictment, the spokesperson added that “we respect the grand jury’s decision.”
A spokesperson for the Harris County District Attorney’s office told The Daily Beast that the grand jury determined criminal charges against Serrano were not warranted.
All of the officers named in the lawsuit did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment. The city of Houston pointed to the statement issued by its police department.
Howard’s attorney, Randall Kallinen, told The Daily Beast on Monday that his client was “extremely happy” with Vieira’s indictment, noting that the legal action represents the first step for the former officer to be “held responsible for what he did.”
“While the other officers involved were not indicted, it does not mean they did not do anything wrong that day, as we outline in our lawsuit,” Kallinen added.
Howard’s arrest came before a protest wave over systemic racism in American policing, but the charges against Vieira book-end a series of sometimes fatal traffic stops involving unarmed people of color that garnered national attention. In April, a white police officer in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center fatally shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright, a Black man, apparently firing her service weapon by accident instead of a Taser during the traffic stop. This even as the criminal trial against Derek Chauvin was poised to play out nearby.
The July 2019 assault is also among several examples of alleged police brutality by the Houston Police Department since 1998, as detailed in the lawsuit. Among the examples cited is the police killing of 27-year-old Nicholas Chavez, who was shot over 20 times in April 2020 during a mental-health crisis. Four officers involved in Chavez’s death have been fired and his family has since won a $100 million settlement from the city.
While Howard survived, the 34-year-old said in an April news conference announcing the lawsuit that he was one of the lucky ones.
“I’m thankful to be here after I went through what I went through. People [have] been going through it, so it’s nothing new to me. I’m not even surprised,” he said.
The sentiment is grim, considering the allegations of humiliation and abuse lodged against Vieira and his colleagues in Howard’s lawsuit.
According to Howard, the traffic stop got ugly quickly after Vieira commanded him to get out of the car and “immediately” put him in handcuffs while Serrano searched him for weapons.
“While Serrano is about to put on rubbers [sic] gloves for a body cavity search a still handcuffed Mr. Howard runs from the scene and was easily caught within a block by Officer Serrano. Later, Officer Serrano remarks, ‘He’s kinna slow,’” the lawsuit states.
During the brief chase, however, Vieira is heard in the body-camera footage telling Serrano twice to shoot Howard—and even shouted “BOP BOP BOP BOP,” according to the lawsuit. After Howard was again apprehended and beaten, Viera made “numerous threats and [referenced] his earlier beating of Mr. Howard” while two other officers stood by, the lawsuit states.
“He had his handcuffs around his fists, he punched me like four times in the back of the head. Then as he walked me off, he hit me on the side of my head, leaving a scar. I had to go to the hospital,” Howard said during a November 2020 press conference. That’s when his legal team released a clip of the bodycam footage they obtained from the Houston Police Department, as Click2Houston reported.
In the clip, Howard can also be heard pleading with police to stop smashing his head with handcuffs, yelling out, “Alright bro! You got it, bro, you got it, bro!”
“I was scared, I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Howard said.