A Harris County jail inmate claims he was assaulted by deputies because he smiled for his mugshot.
Christopher Johnson is suing after he says two county employees put their hands around his neck and choked him for about 30 seconds.
Johnson was arrested July 25, 2015 on suspicion of drunk driving. His attorney says at the time of booking, Johnson was berated and ridiculed for smiling in his mugshot.
“He was choked, in front of a room full of people, for smiling. That’s very humiliating,” said attorney Andre Evans, who is representing Johnson in a civil rights lawsuit filed in Federal Court.
In the lawsuit, Johnson accused a deputy of saying several times, “Man, stop smiling!”
“This is how I always take my pictures,” Johnson stated in the lawsuit.
That is when Johnson says a second deputy with gloves entered the equation. The deputies allegedly began to choke Johnson by placing their hand around his neck.
Johnson’s attorneys maintain their client suffered significant pain and mental anguish from the alleged event.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Department says in general, jailers often have to hold up heads of uncooperative defendants. It also points out that plenty of people have smiled or made other faces while getting booked. The department released the following statement:
“The Harris County Sheriff’s Office believes that proper procedure was followed during the course of Mr. Johnson’s booking. Should any evidence arise to the contrary, proper administrative actions will be taken. At this time, evidence suggests that Mr. Johnson’s pleading does not hold merit.”
Johnson’s attorney says that’s not what happened here.
“What took place at the Harris County jail that night was a clear violation of my client’s first amendment free speech rights as well as a childish show of excessive force,” said Evans.
Johnson is seeking both compensation and punitive damages, alleging the deputy and those involved in the incident violated his civil rights. However, well-known local attorney Dan Cogdell, who is not involved in this case, says even if the allegations are true, they will be difficult to prove in court.
“Even if it’s true, I wouldn’t be calling Ferrari of Houston this afternoon to order me a yellow one based on the expectation of a huge verdict in this type of case, because they’re very, very difficult cases to prove,” said Cogdell.
Johnson has been arrested several times before. And his other mug shots all appear to be pretty uneventful. But whether this mug shot is one that violated his civil rights will be eventually up to a jury to decide.