Father and son Marco and Dillon Puente say living in the town of Keller, Texas often means looking over their shoulder.
As Hispanics from Keller, about 30 miles northwest of Dallas and whose population is 87% white, Marco Puente said that for him and his son there was a feeling that “every time you see a cop is: to stop us? Are they going to target us? Do they know who we are?
“It’s just that weird feeling when you haven’t done anything wrong but don’t want someone else to be angry,” he said.
That worried vigilance came into play on August 15, he said.
That day, as Mr Puente and his son headed to separate cars to meet up with a relative, Mr Puente, 39, saw his son, Dillon, being arrested by police.
Mr Puente was recording a video with his cell phone when he caught the attention of an officer, and according to a complaint filed this month in federal court, he was pepper sprayed and handcuffed.
The lawsuit says two members of Keller’s police department – Blake Shimanek, who was then a sergeant, and officer Ankit Tomer – violated Mr Puente’s civil rights. Lawyers representing Mr. Puente accuse them, among other things, of using excessive force.
“There is no denying that their conduct was horrible,” said Scott Palmer, one of the attorneys representing Mr. Puente, referring to the officers. “They are meant to preserve and protect, and they have caused havoc and havoc.”
A lawyer representing Agents Shimanek and Tomer did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
Dillon Puente, 22, was on his way to his great-grandfather when he was stopped by Officer Shimanek for making an inappropriate wide right turn, according to the lawsuit.
Constable Shimanek’s body camera footage shows Dillon Puente was asked to get out of the car and was subsequently handcuffed.
As his son was being questioned, Marco Puente pulled up across the road and began recording the interaction on his phone from his truck, according to footage. Constable Shimanek yelled at him for blocking the roadway and threatened him with arrest.
Constable Shimanek then told Constable Tomer, upon his arrival, to arrest Mr. Puente. A photo included in the lawsuit shows Officer Shimanek putting Mr. Puente in a headache. Mr. Puente was then sprayed with pepper, according to video footage, Officer Tomer removing Mr. Puente’s sunglasses before spraying him a second time.
Mr. Puente repeatedly asked for a towel, but Officer Shimanek replied that Mr. Puente would receive medical treatment after being taken to jail. Body camera footage later showed Officer Shimanek wiping off himself with a towel taken from the back of his patrol car after denying Mr Puente one.
Mr Puente has been charged with resisting arrest and interfering with public service, his lawyers said. He was released the night he was arrested, and the charges were subsequently dropped.
Dillon Puente, who was placed in a separate patrol car from the one his father was in, was also arrested and taken to jail for making an inappropriate wide right turn. He was later released after paying a fine, Marco Puente’s lawyers said.
The Keller Police Department has opened an internal investigation which included recommendations from the police chief’s Citizens Advisory Council, Keller Mayor Armin Mizani said in a statement on Wednesday.
Constable Shimanek faced two allegations of misconduct: arresting an individual for an offense that was not committed and carrying out an illegal search, according to a complaint filed with the city.
On September 8, Police Chief Brad Fortune said there was evidence to support the claim that Constable Shimanek arrested Mr Puente for an offense he did not commit. Officer Shimanek was demoted to an officer rank from his previous rank of sergeant with the option to reapply for the post after one year. Constable Tomer was not disciplined.
Captain Chad Allen, a police spokesperson, said Constable Tomer “acted accordingly” under Constable Shimanek, who was his supervisor at the time.
Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association, which represents more than 30,000 police officers in Texas, said an association lawyer was monitoring the trial against Constables Shimanek and Tomer. The group does not represent the Keller Police Department and does not have a lawyer involved in the litigation. The two leaders are members of the association.
“This is one of those cases where I would say you might want to step back and not take the plea at face value,” Lawrence said of the lawsuit.
Chief Fortune met Marco Puente two days after his arrest, apologized and said police “were wrong, not Mr. Puente,” according to the lawsuit.
Mr Puente said in an interview that he accepted the chief’s apology as a kind gesture but believes more needs to be done to hold the police accountable.
“It’s happening everywhere,” Puente said of the police misconduct. “If people keep brushing it under a rug, it will continue to happen.”