DeSoto police officers accused of brutalizing a family after a 911 call last August either did not activate their body cameras or wear them during some of the most heated moments, according to police officials and footage obtained by The Dallas Morning News.
The lapses ran afoul of the Dallas suburb’s policies requiring officers to wear cameras and keep them running during most encounters with the public, police chief Joseph Costa acknowledged in an interview.
His confirmation comes after The News obtained the officers’ body camera footage through Texas’ open records law and compared it to a dashcam video released last year. Since that time, the chief had maintained his officers did nothing wrong.
The Dallas County district attorney’s office, meanwhile, will be investigating the family’s allegations of brutality, a spokeswoman told The News. The decision was made last week following a meeting with the family.
The dashcam captured six DeSoto officers responding to the home of Sammie Anderson on Aug. 7 after she asked a friend to call for help in breaking up an argument between her two oldest sons. The caller suggested someone was wielding a weapon, but by the time police arrived the dispute was over. Police tackled Anderson and Tased one of her adult sons, who had already complied with orders to lie on the ground and appeared to be no threat.
Because the dashcam footage was shot from a distance, it was difficult to identify which of the five officers surrounding the man Tased him, and how many times, among other details.
By syncing footage from the separate videos, The News found that three officers’ cameras were dark during the Tasing. The department’s policy says officers should activate their cameras before arriving at scenes.
A fourth cop’s camera caught only blurry images. A fifth’s was too far away. And a sixth officer at the scene didn’t wear one, Costa said.
Texas law does not require officers to wear cameras. But DeSoto and other cities across the nation, including Dallas, have championed the technology as a powerful truth-telling tool in an era when police conduct is often called into question. They can bring into focus details dashcams often can’t, helping illuminate the nature and severity of force used.
Costa has touted body cameras as an effective accountability tool for his department in public appearances with Texas Sen. Royce West who authored the state’s body camera law providing funds to police agencies that use them.
Despite the absence of certain footage that August night, the DeSoto officers’ body cameras did catch key details. For example, Officer Patrick Krekel recorded himself talking about how he Tased the man twice, and had “slammed’’ the mom to the street.
Last year, DeSoto police’s internal affairs unit cleared the officers of misconduct after The News reported that Costa said they acted properly. Costa sent a letter to Anderson saying they “were unable to substantiate that the officers violated any laws or were outside departmental policies and procedures.’’
Through a police spokesman, the officers — Krekel, Bryan Scott-Lee, Courie Bryant, Kendall McGill, Ryan Money and Larry Walker — declined to comment for this story.
Anderson said the missing body camera footage amounts to lost evidence.
“It’s just unfair because it compromises our efforts to get at the truth,’’ she said.
The family recently filed a claim against DeSoto alleging civil rights violations and seeking at least $1.5 million in damages for brutality and malicious prosecution. Anderson suffered a sprained shoulder and ankle, medical records show, and then lost her job due to absences that week. The family left DeSoto under threat of eviction.
Officers arrested Anderson’s sons Grant and Sam Bible that night for allegedly interfering with them, taking them to jail. They missed work and lost their jobs, they said. Following an investigation by The News, the district attorney’s office later cleared them, saying there was no evidence for the charges.
Late last year, civil rights leaders and the Texas ACLU called for an independent investigation of the DeSoto police by an outside agency such as the DA’s office. And U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, urged DeSoto to create a citizen police review board to examine cases of excessive force and discriminatory policing. Anderson’s family is black. Two of the officers are white, four black.
Costa recently told The News for the first time that some officers were “out of conformance” with department policy. McGill, the officer who didn’t have a camera, left it on a charger, and Krekel’s device inadvertently shut off during the commotion, the chief said.
The chief would not discuss whether the officers have or would be disciplined, only that each officer’s role must be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Citing the family’s legal claim, Costa said he could not discuss the matter further.
What new footage reveals
The controversial case began with Anderson’s decision to call 911. She sought police help in breaking up an argument between two of her three adult sons, Grant, then 20, and Matt, 23.
Once police arrived at their home, the dispute was over, and the dashcam showed a quiet scene. As officers got out of their cars, they pointed weapons at Anderson and her sons, and asked if they were fighting.
“No one’s fighting,’’ said Anderson’s third son, Sam, who walked up after just arriving from work.
Officers shouted for them to get on the ground. Matt and his mother complied. As Sam walked closer to them, Anderson gets up again to warn her son to get on the ground.
“Do as you’re told or you’re going to get Tased!’’ officer Scott-Lee said.
Anderson got on the ground again. But when she stood up moments later, Krekel tackled her from behind, slamming her on the pavement.
His body camera showed her waving a hand in front of his Taser as he pointed it toward Grant. The camera went blank.
Costa said he believes Krekel’s camera shut off by accident during that encounter.
After Anderson stood up again, officer Scott-Lee shouted at her and others to lie down. And they did.
DeSoto’s policies have required that officers should wear the cameras “in a location that will allow the best video recordings of citizen interactions.’’
But Scott-Lee’s body camera was pointed away from them. For three minutes, his camera stayed focused only on a house next door. Meanwhile, the dashcam showed the family face down on the ground, at times shouting at each other to stay quiet.
At one point, as Scott-Lee’s camera remains aimed away from the family — it’s unclear why — the recorder captures him apparently radioing to another officer on his way there.
“Once you get here, we need to start hooking people up,’’ Scott-Lee said. “The males first. They’re all trying to fight each other.’’
A woman’s voice objected, saying, “No they were not, sir.’’
“Be quiet,’’ Scott-Lee said.
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