An Indiana family is suing a city and the local police after officers allegedly smashed a car window to stun and arrest a passenger during a traffic stop.
The family said police pulled them over because the two front passengers were not wearing a seat belt on September 24 in Hammond, Indiana.
Both sides argued they feared for their safety during the traffic stop, which was videotaped by a teenager in the car.
The video in question
“I’m scared for my life,” Lisa Mahone’s voice is heard in a video, speaking from the driver’s seat of her car. In the passenger seat, her partner, Jamal Jones, talks to officers gathered outside his door. His window is rolled down only a few inches. “I don’t know what’s going on,” he says.
Joseph Ivy, 14, and Janiya Ivy, 7, are in the back seat. One of them holds a camera and is recording the exchange.
“Are you going to open the door?” an officer asks Jones.
“How can you say they are not going to hurt you? People are getting shot by the police!” Mahone says before her voice breaks into screams as an officer smashes the passenger window. Jones joins her screams as his body convulses from the electric shock of the stun gun. Officers then pull him out of the car, handcuff him and take him away.
Fear on both sides
Minutes before the incident, the family was driving to the hospital to visit Mahone’s dying mother.
Hammond Police Officers Patrick Vicari and Charles Turner stopped Mahone because neither she nor Jones wore seat belts, according to Hammond Police spokesman Lt. Richard Hoyda.
The officers placed spike strips under the car’s wheels and approached Mahone.
Mahone “informed the officers that her mother was dying and that (they) were on the way to the hospital to see her before she died,” read the complaint. “Rather than issuing Lisa (Mahone) a ticket for failure to wear a seat belt, the officers demanded that Jamal (Jones), the passenger, provide the officers with his identification as well.”
But Jones didn’t have an identification. He had previously turned over his license for an unrelated citation. “Jamal offered to show the officers the ticket, which had his information on it but the officers refused,” read the complaint.
Police however tell a different story.
Call to 911
Jones refused to identify himself and repeatedly ignored requests to step out of the car after officers feared he had a weapon, Hoyda said.
“The first officer saw the passenger inside the vehicle drop his left hand behind the center console inside of the vehicle. Fearing for officer safety, the first officer ordered the passenger to show his hands and then repeatedly asked him to exit the vehicle,” Hoyda said.
Meanwhile, Mahone was on the phone with a 911 operator requesting to speak to a supervisor.
‘Fear for their safety’
Mahone, Jones and the children “were in reasonable fear for their safety,” read the complaint. “After a minute or two for no reason, the officers drew their weapons.”
At this point Mahone is heard pleading with someone in the video. “He (Jones) is looking for his information in his book bag. When he goes into his book bag, they pull a gun out. What was the purpose of a gun? And now they ask me to open my door so I can get out. I’m scared. If you can pull out a gun in front of … there is two kids in the back seat.”
Both the Police Department and Hammond are standing by the officers.
“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.
Hammond Mayor Thomas M. McDermott Jr. cited two recent police officer deaths in Indiana as the reason for heightened precautions.
“While I hope that situations like this one can be avoided in the future, I am standing solidly behind the actions of these police officers,” McDermott said.
Mahone was cited for failure to wear a seat belt and a license plate reciprocity violation. Jones was arrested for failure to aid an officer, resisting law enforcement and was also cited for a seat belt violation, according to Hoyda.
In a lawsuit filed this week in the Northern District Court of Indiana, Mahone, Jones and the two children accuse the city, Vicari, Turner and “other unknown officers” of excessive force, false arrest and imprisonment, assault and battery, and Intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Hammond Police directly all media inquiries to the law firm Eichhorn & Eichhorn, LLP. CNN called the firm and asked whether they were representing Hammond Police regarding the September incident. An unidentified woman said “that’s true and we have no comment.”
CNN attempted to contact Turner and Vicari, but was unsuccessful.
Who recorded the incident?
“That incident further magnifies what took place in Ferguson, the use of excess force that seems to be happening across the breath and width of this nation,” said NAACP Board Member John Gaskin. “As a man of color, if I’m pulled over, I will be leery of the officer and obey whatever commands they are giving me because at this point you are fearful of your life”
It was fear that led one of the children in the back seat, Joseph, 14, to begin recording the incident.
“The kids and the family had seen all the news of officers engaging in excessive force and were concerned for their safety,” family attorney Dana Kurtz told CNN affiliate WLS.
The children were “horrified,” said Kurtz. “They received glass shattered into the back seat, they had cuts in their arms. Not only were they harmed physically but they were harmed emotionally as well.”
“They were scared. Their perception of officers, of police officers who were supposed to be serving and protecting not only them, but us, everyone, has been tarnished for the rest of their lives,” said Kurtz.
A sentiment that judging by the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, is echoed by many. The August fatal shooting of Michael Brown in that city led to days of violent protests in Ferguson.
“Just because the police could do it, doesn’t mean they should. My question here is the judgment that they used smashing that window with the kid in the car and four passengers in that car if there could have been another way to get around that,” said CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes
The mayor said he acknowledged “the importance of being sensitive to differing points of views, amongst our diverse community, in regards to actions taken by our police department.”
“As always, I will continue to encourage open dialogue on this and any issue that may affect relations between city government and members of our community,” he said.
However, he concluded, he believes “when drivers get pulled over, whether they agree with the reason for the stop or they don’t, you must comply with lawful requests of the police.”