A federal lawsuit filed Monday accuses Indiana police of excessive force after officers smashed a woman's car window with children inside, tased an unarmed passenger and dragged him out of the vehicle during a routine traffic stop last month.
Police say they feared the passenger might have a weapon, after he refused to step out of the vehicle and reached toward the rear seats.
The incident was captured on video both by police and by the alleged victims. At approximately 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 24, Hammond police pulled over Lisa Mahone as she drove with a friend, Jamal Jones, and her two children, ages 7 and 14, to visit her mother in the hospital.
According to the lawsuit filed Monday in Indiana, an officer told Mahone she was being pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt and asked to see both her driver's license and Jones's identification. Mahone produced her license, but Jones told the officer he did not have his license because he had been ticketed for not paying his insurance, and offered to show them the ticket. The officer refused, according to Jones, and ordered him to step out of the car. According to the suit, Jones refused, fearing "the officers would harm him."
But Hammond police say Jones "refused to lower the window more than a small amount" and refused to provide his name. The officer then called for backup, requesting a video-equipped squad car.
It was around this time, police say, that Mahone shifted the car into drive. When officers warned her they had placed in front of the vehicle a "stop strip" that would puncture her tires, she pleaded with them to let her go.
"Just give me a ticket for no seatbelt so I can go to the hospital, because the doctor called me to tell me to come in because my mom is about to pass away," Mahone can be heard telling officers, who continue to ask Jones to get out of the car.
Soon afterward, an officer broke the passenger window with a club. According to the lawsuit, the club struck Jones in the shoulder and caused shards of glass to hit the four passengers.
The officers then tased Jones and forcibly removed him from the car, placing him under arrest. He was charged with resisting arrest, according to the suit. "At no point during this entire encounter did Jamal physically resist the officers in any way," the lawsuit states.
But in a statement, Hammond Police Lt. Richard Hoyda said the officers were "at all times acting in the interest of officer safety and in accordance with Indiana law."
"In general, police officers who make legal traffic stops are allowed to ask passengers inside of a stopped vehicle for identification and to request that they exit a stopped vehicle for the officer’s safety without a requirement of reasonable suspicion," Hoyda said. "When the passenger displayed movements inside of the stopped vehicle that included placing his hand in places where the officer could not see, officers’ concerns for their safety were heightened."
The case is the latest in a series involving officers accused of using excessive force. Last month, a South Carolina Highway Patrol officer was charged with armed aggravated assault, after he shot an unarmed driver who had reached into his car to retrieve his license. The shooting was captured on the officer's dash cam.
The shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August sparked nightly demonstrations that included heavily armed militarized police clashing with protesters in the St. Louis suburb. That shooting, which was not captured on video, led to calls from lawmakers for police to wear video cameras on their uniforms.
One of the officers named in Mahone's suit, Lt. Patrick Vicari, "has been named as a defendant in at least three previous lawsuits involving excessive use of force against citizens."