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Lawsuit: Round Rock police beat up vet after argument over unleashed dog

Austin American-Statesman logo Austin American-Statesman 8/9/2022 Claire Osborn, Austin American-Statesman

Three Round Rock police officers got into an argument with a disabled veteran because his service dog was unleashed and ended up slamming him to the ground, breaking his sternum and shocking him with a stun gun, according to a federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed by Darrell Collins on Thursday against three unnamed officers and Round Rock Police Chief Allan Banks. It claims the officers unlawfully arrested him and used excessive force.

The city does not comment on pending litigation, Nick Olivier, a Round Rock police spokesman, said Friday.

Collins, a 54-year-old disabled Marine who served in Desert Storm, is seeking $5 million in damages for physical injuries and emotional pain and suffering, said his lawyer, George Lobb. Collins' testicles also were injured during the arrest, Lobb said Friday.

The incident happened Aug. 29, 2020, after Collins walked his unleashed service dog, a Rottweiler named Xena, to a grassy patch at his apartment complex, the lawsuit says. It says Collins had the dog because he suffers from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Lobb said Collins' back was injured after he was struck by an IED in Iraq.

As Collins was standing with his dog, two Round Rock police vehicles pulled up and an officer jumped out of one of them and asked if he could pet the dog, the lawsuit says. Collins said no because she was a service dog, according to the suit. The officer then asked Collins, "Do you not want to talk to me?" and Collins replied that he just wanted himself and his dog to be left alone, the document says.

It says the officer then told Collins to put his dog on a leash. Collins told the officer he had permissionfrom his apartment complex for his service dog to be off-leash on the property, the lawsuit says. It says the officer then asked Collins for his identification, and Collins asked if he was under arrest. The officer said Collins was under arrest because Xena was off-leash, the document says.

According to Round Rock police, "any dog, while on a street, sidewalk, public way in any park, public square or other public space, shall be restrained and secured by a leash or chain of sufficient strength to restrain the particular dog. ... An animal that is not restrained in compliance with this section shall be considered at large in violation."

Having a dog unleashed is a fine-only offense, the lawsuit says. It says Collins asked the officer to leave him alone and then Collins put a leash on his dog. As Collins began walking away, he heard one officer say, "Take him down," the lawsuit says.

It says the officers then tackled Collins. "Mr. Collins was on his knees, using his arms to hold up his body so that hishead would not go into the bushes, when an officer yelled for Mr. Collins to 'stop resisting' before yanking one of his legs and tasing him in the back," the lawsuit says. Collins was shot with a Taser three times, according to the document.

At one point, Collins was slammed to the ground on his chest, preventing him from breathing, according to the lawsuit.

More:Williamson County settles Javier Ambler wrongful death lawsuit for $5 million

"Mr. Collins told the officers 'I can’t breathe' multiple times before finally being allowed to stand," the lawsuit says. "While handcuffed and standing up, a male officer on the scene punched Mr. Collins in the middle of his chest. This punch to the chest fractured Mr. Collins’s sternum and slammed him back to the ground, where he landed on his shoulders, unable to break his fall with his handcuffed hands."

Police took Collins to a hospital and then to the Williamson County Jail. Jail records show he was arrested for resisting arrest, search or transport. Charges were never filed against him, according to court records.

Collins later paid $5,000 in medical bills to treat his injuries, the lawsuit says.

More:Five injured in protests against police sue Austin as taxpayers pay growing price tag

Lobb said he has never handled a case "this ridiculous."

"The solution is a citation or a warning to please put your dog on a leash," Lobb said. "The solution isn't to tackle this guy and break his sternum and balls."

There were witnesses to the arrest who corroborated Collins' story, Lobb said.

"This lawsuit is about more than money, but money is the only way to incentivize the city to hire and train those who are supposed to protect us to actually protect us," Lobb said.

He said he tried to get the names of the three officers involved in the incident but the Police Department would not give them to him.

Lobb said he waited two years to file the lawsuit because he wanted to see if Collins would be indicted on a felony charge in connection with his arrest, but that hasn't happened.

"I don't see any of my white clients having this issue," Lobb said. "Imagine a 21-year-old white girl living in the same apartment complex. Can you visually see a cop taking her out for walking away?"

The lawsuit did not say whether Xena was injured when Collins was arrested. Xena has since died, but Collins has a new service dog, Lobb said.

"Mr. Collins was already a veteran with PTSD and prone to high anxiety, but now he can barely leave the house without suffering from paralyzing fear that he will be treated like a criminal for walking his dog," the lawsuit says. "Mr. Collins used to go outside and walk his dog 12 miles a day, but now rarely leaves his home. Mr. Collins thinks about the incident every day."

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Lawsuit: Round Rock police beat up vet after argument over unleashed dog

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