Houston, HPD Jailer Sued for Beating up Handcuffed Inmate in Jail Cell

Lasswon Shannon
Lasswon Shannon Courtesy Harris County Sheriff's Office
click to enlarge Lasswon Shannon - COURTESY HARRIS COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
Lasswon Shannon
Courtesy Harris County Sheriff's Office
A little more than a year after a Houston jailer was charged after beating a handcuffed inmate, the victim has now filed a federal lawsuit against the jailer and the city.

In December 2015, Lasswon Shannon was charged with assault causing bodily injury for charging into Akrem Azzam's solitary cell and punching him three or four times while Azzam lay defenseless on the ground. According to the lawsuit, Azzam had just arrived at the Houston Police Department's Riesner jail that very day after he received psychiatric treatment at Ben Taub Hospital. He had been charged with deadly conduct, a misdemeanor, for exhibiting a firearm in a threatening manner.

Azzam claims in the excessive-force lawsuit that, before the brutal beating in his cell, Shannon had already assaulted him on the way there. According to the criminal complaint against Shannon, Shannon had just closed Azzam's cell when he saw Azzam spit at him. Shannon then swung the door back open and attacked, leaving Azzam with a busted lip and “several red scratches on his face, neck and upper body,” an investigator wrote in the complaint.

"Maybe that's acceptable behavior when you're at a bar and you're drunk. But not for a guard who is used to people coming into his jail who are experiencing all kinds of mental episodes," said Randall Kallinen, Azzam's lawyer. "It was very unprofessional, and it was due to anger. It would be very hard to say he was defending himself."

Despite the fact that Azzam was in handcuffs, Shannon told superiors that he punched Azzam because he felt he needed to "control the situation." He also lied to them, saying he only shoved Azzam up against the wall with his forearm, which the investigator wrote was "inconsistent" with the video footage, which you can see here.

Shannon pleaded guilty to the assault charges and spent five days in jail, paid a $300 fine, was on community supervision for one year and had to take part in the "Sheriff's Weekend Work Program," where, the instructions note, "YOU WILL GET DIRTY AND POSSIBLY WET."

Kallinen said his client felt the need to seek justice in the civil courts because Azzam is still experiencing depression and hopelessness stemming from what happened to him in the jail. "It disturbs him to this day. There's no doubt about that," Kallinen said. "It was really harsh for him. An employee of the jail is beating you up, and you're totally helpless."

The lawsuit alleges that the Houston Police Department engages in a "pattern and practice of excessive force" against prisoners in the jail, listing more than a dozen examples over the years. Most recently, Kallinen sued on behalf of a client taken to the jail on a DWI charge, who was also beaten after allegedly spitting at an officer.

The officer responded by gashing Reuben Williams's head into a metal doorframe, then shoving him up against the wall and putting him into a chokehold, causing him to drop to the floor and convulse, smearing blood from his head wound all over the floor. Video footage, which you can see here, is inconclusive about the alleged spit.

Azzam's lawsuit against the city seeks unspecified damages and attorney's fees. The city did not respond to a request for comment.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn