By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
By Jeff Balke
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Ben DuBose
Billy went to the door of his parents' bedroom, knocked and opened his mouth to say, "Mom, I'm in trouble," when the front door came crashing in, followed by officers Ashby and Garcia.
Up to this point, the stories of the Millers and the police are pretty much in agreement. Billy admits to making a reckless mistake and, at one point early in the chase, going about 100 mph. HPD officer Ashby admits to kicking in not one but two doors to gain entry. Ashby even says that, yes, cops from every possible jurisdiction joined the hunt, eventually scrambling around and through the Millers' house. But there the stories diverge. Billy Miller says the police began to physically take out their frustrations on him. But no police officer admits to laying a hand on Billy Miller.
"Sometime during our struggle, in the process of taking him to the ground and us wrestling around on the ground, he managed to get injured, yes," Ashby conceded in a deposition taken for the civil suit, which names Ashby and Tony Fincher, now an HPD homicide investigator, as defendants along with the city. The city attorney's office did not respond to requests for interviews or information about the incident.
But in the depositions, the recollections of Ashby, Fincher and an officer in the helicopter are loaded with contradictions. For example, the policeman in the chopper says Ashby and Fincher entered the house with their guns drawn and in the company of a supervisor; Ashby and Fincher say their guns were holstered and no supervisor was on the scene. But the greatest contrast is with Billy Miller's version, which at least offers some explanation for why Wanda Miller had to clean her son's blood off the wall before she could go back to bed.
"I was just about to tell my Mom, so she'd be prepared when the police showed up to arrest me, when Ashby kicked the door in," Billy says. "He had his pistol in his hand and he hit me with it."
Billy says the pistol-whipping quickly degenerated into a "free-for-all," with at least three officers and two sheriff's deputies raining blows on him with guns, flashlights, batons and their feet. Miller suffered multiple cuts and bruises on his head, face and body. His left eye was swollen shut. A half-dollar-size welt was raised above his right eye. The bridge of his nose was bruised and swollen, as were his lip, stomach, ribs and kidney area. According to a doctor who examined Billy Miller a few days later, the injuries "were probably done by a blunt object."
The officers' claim that he fought with them is, Billy insists, absurd. "When someone comes at you with a gun in his hand, you're not doing much of anything," says Billy, who pleaded guilty to fleeing but was acquitted of charges that he resisted arrest. "They were just really mad and they were taking it out on me."
Billy says now that if he were the only person who had suffered as a result of his mistake, he might have been able to let the matter lie. Unfortunately, he says, someone else was pulled in.
Linda Miller awoke that night to the roar of a helicopter and the sight of its spotlight shining through her bedroom window. When she got up to check on the commotion, she recalls, a gun was shoved in her face and she was pushed against a wall. Later, after her brother was dragged down a hallway and put into a police car, several officers returned to her house to arrest her. They stood outside her open bedroom door while she changed her clothes in order to go downtown.
Since that night, Linda Miller has suffered panic attacks, flashbacks and mild agoraphobia. She can't stand to be touched, and the sound of sirens sends her into a near frenzy. Though she was acquitted of charges that she hindered the arrest of her brother, she can't seem to embrace that as justice.
Wanda Miller's face collapses as she recalls the sight of her two children being taken away in handcuffs while a dozen police officers stood around casually insulting her family. She can't even seem to muscle up much anger anymore at the arrogance she perceives from the City of Houston, which claims that Linda has always had emotional problems and that Billy would be fine if he had only sought proper medical treatment.
Wanda Miller knows that a victory in court won't change any of that. It won't make life the way it once was. Daughter Linda is depressed and withdrawn; son Billy is moody and gets frustrated when his mind won't bite down on the thoughts in his head. But Wanda, who filed her suit only after long discussions with her pastor, thinks something had to be done.
"Other people seem to have people who look out for them," she says, sitting in the living room of the home she once considered a place of safety. "We're just middle-class people trying to live. Who's looking after us?