It was a steamy hot day in mid-August when 79-year-old Tillion Thomas was driving home after a church function. Suddenly, she saw police lights in her mirror. A cop was pulling her over for allegedly speeding.
It was, however, anything but a routine traffic stop, claims Thomas. The retired school teacher is suing the City of Houston and its police department in Houston federal court for violating her civil rights, claiming that the cop beat up and hospitalized her.
"It's a blatant case of excessive force and police brutality," Thomas' attorney, Jason Gibson, tells Hair Balls. "I have no idea what the officer was thinking. I don't know what someone her age could do to make an officer fear for his life in such a way that he would apply that much force."
Thomas says that the officer pulled her over on Cullen and then made the senior citizen drive down a dark gravel side-street. There, the officer asked to see Thomas's ID.
And that's when things began to go bad, says Thomas.
According to the lawsuit:
As Thomas was pulling her license out of her wallet, [the officer] snatched the wallet and threw it to the ground. [The officer] proceeded to jerk Thomas by her left hand, placed Thomas in handcuffs and kicked her in the back of the leg, causing her to fall to the ground. [The officer] violently drug Thomas across the gravel road and jammed his knee into both her neck and chest, causing severe pain and trauma to Thomas.
Thomas was ordered to get up, but she could not because she was still pinned to the ground under [the officer]. Thomas was again drug across the gravel road and thrown to the floor of [the officer's] police cruiser, where she was taken to the police station. Thomas was physically unable to get out of the cruiser or enter the station by herself and had to be carried.
Afterward, says Gibson, Thomas' pants had holes in the knees from being dragged across the gravel. But that was the least of the damage. At the police station, Thomas claims, officers took pictures of her wounds and then drove her to the hospital, where she received care for injuries to her back, neck and chest.
From there, the police drove Thomas back to the station, where they charged her with resisting arrest. Gibson says the charge has since been dismissed.
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Gibson believes the attack on Thomas, an African-American, was racially motivated. "She was coming home from church in a new Mercedes," he says. "To me, it seems like it's got to be a pure racial situation."
Thomas claims that she still suffers pain from the injuries and is seeking damages.
"Normally I don't like hauling off on law enforcement unless it's something egregious," says Gibson. "This wasn't some kid mouthing off and doing something, but was an elderly lady who posed no threat whatsoever. It's just inexcusable."
City attorney Annie Teehan says that because the case was recently filed, she has no comment at this juncture.