What should a police officer do when a handcuffed prisoner spits on him?
Yell at him and spit back? Punch him in the face? Slam his head against a metal door frame, then choke him from behind in a neck nerve-hold, causing him to collapse to the floor and convulse?
In the eyes of one Houston police officer now being sued in federal court, apparently Option 3 is the way to go.
According to the lawsuit, filed against Officer S. Corral and the City of Houston this week, the beating occurred while Corral was escorting Reuben Williams to a holding cell after Williams was arrested for a DWI in December 2014. The officer had claimed that Williams spit on him — something that Williams's attorney, Randall Kallinen, adamantly denies. Video footage of the incident is inconclusive.
What the video does show, however, is Corral slamming Williams's head into the door frame of the holding cell, then shoving him against the wall, grabbing the back of his neck and squeezing two key pressure points, sending the still-handcuffed Williams to the floor, writhing in pain. While Williams smears blood from his face all over the linoleum — which spills from a gash on his forehead courtesy of Corral — Corral and other officers simply stand there. Some poke at the incapacitated Williams until medics arrive. His injury ultimately required ten stitches, and has left a permanent scar.
For allegedly spitting on Corral, Williams was charged with harassment of a police officer, a crime for which he remains in jail after missing a court hearing while out on bail. Yet according to the lawsuit, despite the existence of this surveillance tape, HPD superiors never disciplined Corral, and he was never indicted by a grand jury.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Curiously, as we reported last December, a jailer did get indicted after punching a handcuffed mentally ill inmate in the face several times, after the jailer claimed the inmate tried to spit at him. It is unclear why the officer-beating in Williams's case was not held to the same standard.
The police department and the office of Mayor Sylvester Turner declined comment on the case, citing pending litigation.
Kallinen, the attorney for Williams, said at a press conference Monday that, while winning a suit against the City of Houston requires him to prove a pattern of excessive force within HPD, prevailing against individual officers does not. Still, Kallinen cited several other use-of-force incidents in his lawsuit in which officers went undisciplined. He noted that over the past 13 years, the Houston Police Department has seen 250 officer-involved shootings and not a single one resulted in discipline. Kallinen said he is confident he will win.
"I've sued the police at least 100 different times, and based upon the evidence in this case, we will succeed," he said. "It's clearly excessive force, no question about it."