Inmate Sues Jailers Who Strangled Him for Smiling During Mugshot

"What are you smiling about?"
"What are you smiling about?"
From the lawsuit

Instead of trying to smack an allegedly intoxicated man's smile off his face, jailers at the Harris County Jail apparently thought they could choke it off.

That's what Christopher Johnson claimed they tried to do to him while taking a mugshot at the jail, after he was arrested on suspicion of riding his motorcycle while intoxicated last July (his case is still pending). And now he's suing the county and the jailers who did it, as Channel 13 first reported.

According to the federal lawsuit, an intake jailer asked him, “What are you smiling for?” and told him to “take the picture right.”

“This is how I always take pictures,” Johnson said.

Apparently, after asking him a couple more times to stop, the jailer became so irritated by Johnson's smile that he said, “Well, I'll tell you what: If you don't stop smiling, we gon' make you stop smiling.”

That's when another jailer slipped on some gloves.

“Are y'all really about to do this?” Johnson asked.

“Just take the picture right.”

“Man, this is just how I take my pictures!”

And then: The choking commenced. By not one jailer but two.

Johnson kept his smile on.

After the choking — which his attorney, Andre Evans, who is the director of criminal justice for the NAACP, said lasted approximately 30 seconds — Johnson complained of neck pain and asked to go to the jail medical clinic. “He was told to sit down and shut up,” Evans said.

“I fear that this is indicative of a larger and institutional problem at the Harris County Jail, if they can just commandeer someone's facial expression by strangling him," he said. "My client was handcuffed. I can't conceive of any situation in which it would be necessary to place your hands around a handcuffed suspect's neck. It's just inconceivable.”

Ryan Sullivan, a spokesman with the Harris County Sheriff's Office, said he couldn't comment on the case, but offered that there is no policy that prohibits smiling in mugshots. He also said it's not uncommon that, if someone is impaired, jailers will have to “assist them to stand.”

Looks like Johnson got some great help in that photo.


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