Ala. man who claims excessive force sues
By Desiree Hunter
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A man whose beating by five Birmingham police officers was caught on a dashboard video is suing the fired officers, the police chief and the city, saying he suffered severe and permanent injuries.
The suspect, Anthony Warren, who is in prison, filed a lawsuit Tuesday that seeks monetary damages and asks the court to order changes in the way police officers are trained and how investigations of excessive force allegations are handled.
On Jan. 23, 2008, police chased the 38-year-old Warren, ramming his car to stop him and running it off the road. Warren was ejected and was apparently unconscious when officers began kicking him and beating him with a billy club and their fists.
Video of the beating, which was captured on the dash camera of a police cruiser, surfaced in March, more than a year after the chase. Warren was nearing trial for attempted murder, accused of nearly hitting several vehicles and a Hoover police officer during the chase.
A copy of the video given to prosecutors didn't include the beating, but that footage was discovered when the chief prosecutor sought the original tape for technical reasons. The video was made public last week. Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper fired the officers and ordered an investigation to determine if others knew about the beating but did not report it.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit filed in Birmingham district court are Roper, the city and officers Heath Boackle, Thomas Cleveland, Barrett Dewitt, David Doran and Kenneth Prevo.
Warren's attorney, Wendy Crew, said other defendants might be added in the future.
He said the officers were seasoned veterans but acted in a "shameful" manner. Warren pleaded guilty to first-degree assault in the chase and is serving a 20-year prison sentence.
Gayle Gear, who represents the officers, said they are upstanding servicemen and will file for qualified immunity from being sued. Gear said she doesn't expect the case to go before a jury for years, if ever.
"It's not unusual for a city to be sued and its officers to be sued," she said. "There's lots of lawsuits against various municipalities. We defend them and as a general rule, we prevail."
She said the officers responded to the situation according to their training and one of them thought his colleague had been shot or injured by the suspect. She chided Roper and Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford, who has said he believes the officers "crossed the line" and the city must "deal with it without covering it up."
"You've got a mayor going on national television and the police chief on national television and really abandoning their own employees and admitting liability," she said. "That's an unusual phenomena."