Marco Puente says he was pepper-sprayed and arrested for filming a potentially racially-charged traffic stop–of his own son.
Two Texas men are suing the Keller Police Department for excessive force.
According to The New York Times, the lawsuit was filed by Marco and Dillon Puente, Hispanic residents of majority-White Keller, Texas.
The father and son say they have long felt that Keller’s police department actively targeted them, and other members of their community, for being different.
“Every time you see a cop, it’s, is this cop going to pull us over?” said Marco. “Are they going to target us? Do they know who we are?
“It’s just this weird feeling that when you’ve done nothing wrong but you don’t want somebody else to be mad,” he added.
Marco’s fears became reality in mid-August when he and his 22-year old son, Dillon, were driving to a relative’s house. In a separate vehicle, Marco saw his son Dillon being pulled over by the police.
Unsure of what was going on, Marco decided to film the encounter. Not long after he opened his cell phone camera and began to record, Keller officers pepper sprayed, handcuffed, and arrested him.
Now, attorneys for the two say that two Keller police officers—Blake Shimanek, a former sergeant, and Officer Ankit Tomer—violated Marco’s civil rights by using excessive, unjustified force.
“It’s undeniable that their conduct was horrible,” said attorney Scott Palmer. “They’re supposed to preserve and protect, and they caused havoc and mayhem.”
The New York Times notes that Officer Shimanek initiated the traffic stop against Dillon Puente because the latter had been observed making an “improper wide right turn.”
Believing that Dillon Puente was acting nervous, Shimanek ordered him out of the car and placed him in handcuffs.
After Marco arrived and began to record, Officer Shimanek began yelling, saying that the elder Puente was obstructing the roadway and had to leave. He also called for backup; once Tomer arrived, he was ordered to arrest Marco.
In the course of taking Marco into custody, Officer Tomer repeatedly pepper-sprayed him, then refused to provide first-aid or offer any form of relief.
While Mr. Puente was taken into custody for resisting arrest and obstructing the police, he was released from jail within 24 hours; all charges against him were quickly dropped.
Eric Cedillo, a legal advisor to the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, said bodycam footage of the incident makes it clear that Shimanek ordered the arrest because he did not want to be recorded.
“It doesn’t look there’s any justification for his arrest,” Cedillo said. “It looks as though the officer was retaliating against Mr. Puente. He did absolutely nothing wrong. He was across the street recording. The First Amendment provides the ability to do that.”
Keller’s chief of police, Brad Fortune, made a statement some weeks after the arrest, suggesting that Shimanek had arrested Marco for an offense he hadn’t actually committed; Shimanek was subsequently demoted, and Fortune publicly apologized to Mr. Puente and his son.
Although Marco says he accepts Fortune’s apology, and thought it was a nice gesture, he believes more must be done to hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct.
“This is going on everywhere,” Puente said. “If people keep brushing it under a rug, it’s going to keep happening.”