Citing “unlawful arrest and excessive use of force,” an Austin law firm filed a civil rights lawsuit in the Western District of Texas last week against Llano County, Sheriff Bill Blackburn, the Llano County Sheriff’s Office and three of Blackburn’s current or former deputies — Jackson Idol, Steven Sifford and an unknown officer identified as Officer John Doe.
Plaintiffs James “Mike” Glenn and Johnny Spradlin allege in separate January 2019 incidents they were subjected to unnecessary force including officer-initiated neck chokeholds and body slams, which caused injury and could have resulted in a more tragic outcome.
“Neither encounter required force or arrest, and either encounter could have been fatal, due only to the reckless actions of LCSO deputies,” said civil rights attorney Maff Caponi of Kaplan Law Finn, which is representing both men in the suit.
“Spradlin called for mental health help, and instead LCSO deputies savagely tackled, tasered, and arrested him. Glenn asked for patience with his service-related shoulder disability, and an LCSO deputy tackled, choked, and arrested him, collapsing his lung in the process.
“Mr. Glenn and Mr. Spradlin are brave to bring this case, and we intend to once again send a message to the people of Llano that constitutional civil rights abuses by law enforcement will no longer be tolerated,” Caponi added.
When asked about the lawsuit, new Llano County Attorney Dwain Rogers, who was just sworn into office Friday, Jan. 1, said “We, as a county, don’t comment on any pending litigation, but we are aware of it.”
The lawsuit, filed on Jan. 4, has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman’s court.
According to the lawsuit, Glenn was riding as a passenger in a vehicle that was rear-ended in Llano on Jan. 5, 2019, and an argument ensued between Glenn and the driver of the other vehicle. The plaintiff alleges that when Idol arrived, instead of preventing the other driver from leaving the scene without sharing contact and insurance information, Idol began yelling at Glenn and then started to search the truck, where he “eventually found an empty beer can crushed up in the passenger-side rear seat.”
The lawsuit claims Idol threatened to arrest and jail Glenn for having an open container and ordered the plaintiff to put his hands behind his back, but Glenn has “a disability due to a shoulder injury he received during his service in the Army that prevented his arm from fully rotating backwards.”
“Glenn was unarmed and calm with his arms down and one wrist already in cuffs and secure, but Idol got angry about his attitude and wrapped his arm around Glenn’s neck in a chokehold to cut off his breathing and threw him violently to the ground,” Caponi wrote in a summary of the event. “Glenn could not breathe. Idol’s chokehold caused Glenn to briefly fall unconscious.
“When he came to and tried to stand up, Idol punched him repeatedly in the face, before taking him into custody. Officers took Glenn to the hospital to receive stitches for the eye injury Idol caused.
“The officers charged Glenn with resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, and carrying an open container of alcohol; all charges were quickly dropped except the open container,” Caponi also wrote. “Idol’s unprovoked attack against Glenn caused, among other things, a partial collapse of Glenn’s diaphragm and worsening of Glenn’s PTSD.”
Body cam video of the incident shared with The Highlander by Kaplan Law Firm appears to show Idol grabbing Glenn around the neck and taking him down forcefully to the pavement.
The second, separate incident occurred just eight days later on Jan. 13, 2019. Spradlin was home alone and reportedly struggling with depression, which prompted him to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline for assistance. Two LCSO deputies — Sifford and an unidentified second deputy — were dispatched to Spradlin’s home for a “welfare check.”
The lawsuit claims the deputies ordered Spradlin out of his home, removed a knife from his person after he notified them he had one, and interrogated him about whether he had been drinking, to which Spradlin replied “none of your [expletive] business.”
“The officers did not like Spradlin’s attitude, so they placed Spradlin under arrest,” Caponi wrote in a case summary. “As alleged and captured on body cam footage, Officer Doe, from behind Spradlin, tackled Spradlin by his neck, slamming him into the ground. The officers then `drive stunned’ Spradlin on the ground with their tasers, which is when the taser is placed directly against the body and activated without the projectile.
“The officers handcuffed Spradlin, took him to jail, where he spent the night, and charged him with public intoxication, resisting arrest, and attempting to take a weapon from an officer. All charges were later dismissed. This incident was a result of LCSO’s `better to arrest than be sorry’ policy of arresting residents who need mental health help,” Caponi added.
This is not the first case Kaplan Law Firm has brought against law enforcement personnel in Llano County. The firm also represented another Llano resident during a recent suit against the City of Llano and several former Llano police officers who were accused of abuse of official capacity and violations of civil rights.