By David M. Greenwald
Tulsa, OK – The day after Juneteenth, John Burris and his staff used the historic backdrop of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street, the site of racial violence against a burgeoning community 100 years ago, to announce he and his staff were filing a Federal Civil Rights complaint against the County of Sebastian, its sheriff and officers, as well as the Greenwood Police Chief and his officers for egregious and unreasonable force used by Sebastian and Greenwood police officers against a young black 19-year-old female restaurant chef, Tyler Unique McClain.
Greenwood, Arkansas, is an hour or so to the east of Tulsa where the 19-year-old was working at a Tyson Chicken Factory. On May 14, 2020, at approximately 2 am, she had a bad turn on a curve and hydroplaned in her vehicle on a desolate highway and crashed through a fence into a nearby field.
EMT personnel happened to be passing by when they saw the flashing lights and stopped to see if she needed assistance.
Read the complaint here.
They escorted her to the ambulance as she was having trouble walking, but when the police arrived, Burris explained that “the police stated treating her like she was a criminal and ultimately yanked her around the car.”
She was described in the complaint as “visibly confused and disoriented after the crash and was stumbling and mumbling. No odor of alcohol, nor other indicia of intoxication, was detected.”
Police initially offered to drive her home, “but she refused.” The complaint notes, “In her confused state, Plaintiff did not understand the severity of her injuries nor the extent of the damage to her car.”
She was escorted back to the vehicle to retrieve her belongings and she began pulling at her bumper and popping the hood to attempt to fix the car.
The police proceeded to handcuff her, arrest her, put her in leg irons and tased her.
She asked the police, “Why am I being arrested?”
The detective responded “because you are not doing anything I’m asking you to do right now.”
The events and force by the police escalated from there.
“It was pretty outrageous in the sense that we have a young lady who was really a victim of a car accident,” Burris told the Vanguard. “She was treated very much like a criminal that had committed some crime.”
According to the complaint, “Instead of assisting Ms. McClain and ensuring her safety and wellbeing, Deputies Brent Thomas Smith and Jonathan David Outhouse wrongfully arrested Ms. McClain, violently pulled her from her vehicle, threw her to the ground, laid on top of her, and handcuffed her.”
The complaint continues: “Deputy Smith and Sergeant Nick Tuttle forcibly carried Ms. McClain to a patrol vehicle and forced her inside.”
When she “was unable to climb into the vehicle fast enough, Sgt. Tuttle, without warning, unreasonably deployed his Taser into Ms. McClain’s leg, causing her severe pain and suffering.
“The officers’ treatment of Ms. Tyler Unique McClain was atrocious, and it supports continued African American beliefs that the traditions of ‘sundown’ laws still exist in small rural southern towns,” Burris said during the press conference Tuesday.
DeWitt Lacy added, “We’re coming to hold you accountable, and we’re not going to pretend this incident didn’t happen. We’re not going to ignore the harm that you’ve cost Tyler and her family.”
Burris and his firm filed a civil rights lawsuit in a Western District Federal Court of Arkansas, alleging civil rights violations, false arrest, excessive force, and some state civil rights violations.
Burris told the Vanguard that the department itself “acknowledges that these officers were not well trained and they are taking it upon themselves to take some action of training.”
He noted that they claim that she was uncooperative but they “got heavy-handed.
“She tried to tell them that she had been injured, she was alright, the airbag in her car, she was disoriented. That was the big issue. I think that she had gotten the head injury, so she was disoriented and she wasn’t responsive to them in the way they thought that she should have been.”
He added, “I would assume they were thinking that she was intoxicated, but there was no alcohol, drugs, period. She just got off work, actually.”