Attorney accuses Houston PD of racial profiling

By Annie Cosby | Jan 20, 2015

An attorney is suing over claims he was the victim of racial profiling during a bank robbery false alarm.

An attorney is suing over claims he was the victim of racial profiling during a bank robbery false alarm.

Dennis Spurling filed a lawsuit Nov. 17 in the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas against the city of Houston, the Houston Police Department, Police Chief Charles McClelland and HPD officers John Doe and James Doe.

According to the complaint, on Nov. 14, 2014, Spurling and Kelly Jones, both African-Americans, exited the elevators in the Chase Bank Building on South Loop West in Houston and stopped to use the ATM in the outside atrium. Spurling says he turned around to find two young males dressed in dark clothing with dark beanies covering their heads and their hands on their waistlines, and they told Spurling to put his hands up, which he and Jones both did.

The complaint states they then asked Spurling and Jones if they had any weapons, at which point Spurling realized the men may not have been thieves but security guards so he replied, with both hands still in the air, that he had a concealed hand gun license and his weapon on him. According to the complaint, the two men finally emerged into the light of the atrium, allowing Spurling to identify them as Houston Police Department officers.

Spurling says the officers, who had still not identified themselves, handcuffed and arrested Spurling and Jones, both of whom complied without resistance, then removed Spurling’s firearm, and separated Spurling and Jones, forcing Jones to sit by the front door and Spurling on the ground near the stairs. The complaint states people in the parking lot and outside the building approached to look at them through the glass doors as they sat handcuffed on the floor, which was intended to humiliate them but he remained patient while officer James Doe conducted his investigation.

According to the complaint, Spurling eventually asked officer John Doe how much longer the investigation would take, explaining that it was humiliating and that he still had his money and receipt from the ATM in his hands cuffed behind his back, so the officer took the money from his hand and placed it in his left jacket pocket.

Spurling says he also explained to officer John Doe that he was an attorney who advertised on television and had a public image to protect but the officer responded by offering to place him in the back of the patrol car, which Spurling says was not a better option since it would allow him to be paraded across the parking lot in handcuffs.

The complaint states two more officers arrived and officer James Doe returned after completing his investigation, which revealed the building's cleaning lady had mistakenly tripped the “panic button," which alerted the Houston Police Department that a theft was occurring inside the bank, which had closed for business at 6 p.m. that evening.

According to the lawsuit, upon arriving, officers John Doe, a white male, and James Doe, an Asian male, saw Spurling standing at the ATM outside the building but it was not until after he turned around and was identified as a black male that he was immediately treated as a suspect and told to place his hands in the air. The complaint states the officers had no description of a potential suspect and neither officer asked Jones, who is a fair-complexioned nearly white-looking black female, who had always been in plain view, to place her hands in the air until after Spurling was identified as a black male.

After the investigation revealed a false alarm, Spurling was helped up off of the ground but was still questioned about his identity, to which Spurling politely responded and told the officers where to find his wallet in his pocket, which they retrieved. After viewing his state identifications, seeing his business cards with his law office address in the same building, and asking for his birth date, they finally proceeded to remove the handcuffs and officer James apologized profusely for the unlawful arrest. Spurling says the officers ran a check on his firearm then walked them to their car, where the firearm was returned to him, and the officers apologized again as they drove away.

The defendants are accused of false arrest, false imprisonment, kidnapping, intentional infliction of emotional distress, battery and violations of plaintiff’s rights to privacy, free speech, due process, to petition the government for redress of grievances and the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, under state law. McClelland, who was the chief of police at the time, the city of Houston, and the Houston Police Department are accused of condoning condoning these actions and negligently hiring or retaining officers John Doe, James Doe and their supervisors.

Spurling seeks more than $1 million in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages to be donated to charitable organizations benefiting and providing services to victims of police brutality and racial profiling. He is appearing pro se.

Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas case number: 4:14-CV-03299

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