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Family sues Hammond police over traffic stop violence

A simple traffic stop for an unworn seat belt turned into a nightmare after police drew their guns, smashed a window and used a Taser on an unarmed passenger.

A simple traffic stop for an unworn seat belt turned into a nightmare for a family on their way to visit a sick loved one in the hospital, after police officers drew their guns, smashed a window and used a Taser on an unarmed passenger.

According to a lawsuit filed this week, Lisa Mahone of Indiana was pulled over by police officers in Hammond, Indiana while en route to an Illinois hospital to visit her ailing mother. Soon after the stop, Mahone says police laid out spike strips in front of her car.

Officers then order Mahone’s boyfriend, Jamal Jones who was sitting in the passenger seat to get out of the vehicle.

In cell phone video captured by a terrified 14-year-old sitting in the back seat of Mahone’s car, you can hear Mahone on the line with a 911 operator saying that she fears for her life and that moments earlier officers had pulled their guns on the couple.

"I'm scared for my life," Mahone is heard telling the operator. "He just pulled a gun on us and we don't have a gun."

Jones refused to exit the vehicle because he feared for his safety, according to the lawsuit filed on Monday. An officer is then seen in the video smashing through the passenger side window with what appears to be a night stick and shocking Jones with a Taser.

Jones is seen writhing in pain as he’s dragged from the car, placed on the ground and shocked again.

Joseph Ivy, the teenager who shot the video, and his little sister, Janiya, 7, were reportedly injured by spraying glass, according to the complaint. In the aftermath of the arrest, the younger passengers can be heard sobbing.

"He was never told he was being arrested and he was never told why they were ordering him out of the car or asking him to get out of the car," attorney Dana Kurtz told NBC Chicago. "Thankfully Joseph videotaped it. I mean, what a great, smart 14-year-old to videotape this so there is actual evidence, and to be able to protect them and other citizens from this kind of conduct."

The lawsuit claims that the two officers involved, Patrick Vicari and Charles Turner, both of whom are white, used excessive force, false arrest and battery against Jones, who is African-American.

Jones was subsequently charged with resisting law enforcement, failure to aid an officer and cited for not wearing a seat belt, according to Hammond police. Mahone was issued a citation for failure to wear a seat belt and a license plate reciprocity violation.

In an interview on msnbc’s The Reid Report, Jones told host Joy Reid that he was so fearful during the stop that “I don’t think a person could have said anything to make me leave my family in the vehicle at that time.”

Jones said that he refutes assertions by the police that he was making furtive movements that put them in fear.

“I just put my hands down and sat back,” Jones said, hoping that police “wouldn’t have did what they did.”

Jones, a barber, said that ever since the police shocked him with the Taser he’s experienced pain in his arm and shoulder, so much so that it has made it difficult to work.

“I’m a barber so I cut hair, any time I move my shoulder it’s jut tense and very sore,” he said. “My body ain’t been feeling right since he put them volts in my body.”

Hammond police said officers took appropriate action after Mahone lurched her car forward after officers pulled her over and Jones’ refusal to step out of the vehicle. In a statement released on Tuesday morning, Lt. Richard Hoyda of the Hammond Police Department said that during the stop Jones’ repeatedly reached toward the rear of the vehicle and that officers feared he may have been reaching for a weapon.

Hoyda said officers pulled over Mahone’s car about 3:45 p.m. on Sept. 24 after they spotted Mahone and Jones not wearing their seatbelts. Hoyda said that Mahone handed over her license when asked but told officers that Jones didn’t have any identification with him.

When officers asked Jones to provide his identification on a piece of paper, he refused to lower his window more than a crack, according to Hoyda.

Jones then told the officer that “he was not going to do his (the officer’s) job,” and for police to provide a piece of paper for him, police said.

Hoyda said officers then called for back-up after Jones refused over and again to provide his identification and was seen reaching toward the back seat.

According to police 13 minutes had gone by and at least three different officers had asked Jones to get out of the car.

“Fearing the occupants of the vehicle may have possessed a weapon, and seeing the passenger repeatedly reach towards the rear seats of the vehicle, the first officer then broke the passenger side window of the vehicle and the passenger was removed from the vehicle and was placed under arrest,” Hoyda said. 

“The Hammond Police officers were at all times acting in the interest of officer safety and in accordance with Indiana law.”

Mahone said her children, Joseph and Janiya, who were in the backseat during the incident, have been shaken by the entire episode.  

She said Janiya hasn't been able to concentrate and that her teachers at school say the little girl has been distracted. Joseph has become increasingly fearful of police, Mahone said.

“In light of what has been going on across the country with police brutality it’s not surprising this family felt very concerned for their safety,” the family’s attorney, Kurtz, said.

Mahone said when officers finally allowed her to leave the scene, she went straight to the police station to file a complaint.

Kurtz said the police have yet to contact the family regarding that complaint.

“The lawsuit was filed yesterday, so ultimately this case will go to trial,” Kurtz said, adding that the family is not only seeking compensation for emotional distress, but to usher change in police departments across the country.

The episode is just the latest in a string of troubling encounters between unarmed African-Americans and white police officers, a number of which have been fatal.

In July, police in Staten Island, New York choked to death Eric Garner minutes after accosting him on a street corner for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

In early August, police officers in Beavercreek, Ohio fatally shot John Crawford III at a Wal-Mart store after he’d picked up a toy gun off a shelf. Minutes earlier, a customer had called 9-11 and alleged that Crawford was armed with a gun and aiming it at children and other shoppers. Surveillance video contradicts that Crawford ever aimed the gun at anyone, and captures police gunning him down as he nonchalantly talks on his cell phone while toying with the plastic gun.

Just days later on Aug. 9, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed unarmed black teen Michael Brown after the officer stopped the teen while he was walking with a friend from a nearby convenience store. Several witnesses say Brown was fired on as he attempted to run away from the officer and that the fatal shots came as he was turning with his hands up in surrender. The killing sparked national outrage and protests and rioting locally.

On Sept. 10, police in Saratoga Springs, Utah fatally shot Darrien Hunt, who family say was armed with little more than a toy Samurai sword when he was killed. Police say he lunged at them with the toy sword, but inexplicably to Hunt’s supporters, Hunt was shot and killed dozens of feet away from where the altercation allegedly began.

In South Carolina, on Sept. 26, a police officer was arrested and charged with aggravated assault over his response to a routine stop at a gas station earlier in the month. The cop, who is white, stopped an African-American for a seat belt violation on Sept. 4, according to the report. When the driver reached into his vehicle to grab his ID, the officer suddenly fired several gunshots at him, the video allegedly showed.  

Across the country, encounters with the police are being captured on video by citizens, some of which show how volatile and dangerous encounters with police can be.