Two Los Angeles police officers were dispatched to a Hollywood duplex in 2019 to find a man who violated his ex-girlfriend’s restraining order.
They weren’t sure who they were looking for and had no description of the suspect. Yet as they approached the complainant’s home, they spotted a a Black music producer named Antone Austin walking out of his front gate.
One of the officers turned to his partner and asked, “Is it this dude?”
“Probably,” the second patrol cop replied.
With that assumption, the two officers jumped out and ordered Austin to turn around so they could handcuff him. When a puzzled Austin tried to explain that he lived at the home and had nothing to do with what police were there for, they wrestled him into custody.
When Austin’s girlfriend Michelle Michlewicz tried to stop police from manhandling him, they heaved her to the ground as well. She was wearing a robe at the time and the encounter rendered her completely naked in the middle of the street.
It wasn’t until after handcuffing them both that officers realized Austin wasn’t who they were looking for. But that didn’t stop police from arresting him and Michlewicz anyway.
Now the couple is suing the city of Los Angeles for the ugly ordeal, which they say flipped their lives upside down. According to Austin, they had to move out of their Hollywood neighborhood after the police encounter. And they still have criminal charges looming over their heads.
“I had these two guys I’ve never met before, trying to put handcuffs on me and get away. I basically felt like they were trying to kidnap me,” Austin told Atlanta Black Star. “You know, people like us, I can die in this situation. It can get really out of hand at any moment.”
Austin and Michlewicz filed their lawsuit April 30 in U.S. District Court in California’s Central District. Ten LAPD officers who remain unidentified are also listed as defendants in the complaint. A trial date is set for Oct. 19.
Their attorney, Faisal Gill, alleges police assaulted Michlewicz and racially profiled Austin. According to the federal complaint, officers unlawfully seized Austin without cause, used excessive force, violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, wrongfully arrested him and violated his civil rights.
The suit also claims other officers on scene “were present and had a realistic and reasonable opportunity to intervene and prevent the use of excessive force by other officers against Mr. Austin when they put him in a choke hold but neglected to do so.”
The couple is seeking at least $2 million in compensation along with punitive damages. Now they are making a push to get the involved officers’ bodycam footage released publicly.
It’s been sealed by court order. But Gill is expected to appear for a March 30 court hearing to petition a judge to lift the seal and force the Los Angeles Police Department to release the footage from the incident.
“I think what will happen is that everybody will know that Tone did nothing wrong at all,” Gill said during a phone interview Tuesday. “I mean he was there, he didn’t hit the police, didn’t do anything. And the police completely acted unreasonably in arresting him. And one of the things that Tone wanted to do is he wanted the public to know, in hopes that the LAPD doesn’t do this again to somebody else.”
Michlewicz is a 30-year-old singer and Austin, 42, is a recording artist/music producer who goes by the stage moniker “Tone Stackz.” He’s worked with the likes of Too Short, Clyde Carson and Baby Bash.
The encounter unfolded outside the couple’s duplex mid-afternoon on May 24, 2019. Two officers responded to Fountain Avenue, a busy road in Hollywood, after Austin and Michlewicz’s upstairs neighbor called 911 to report that her ex-boyfriend had violated a restraining order.
Austin happened to be pulling his garbage cans out for trash pickup when the responding officers rolled up to his home. He was oblivious to the situation involving his neighbor.
But the officers immediately targeted him as the suspect they were looking for. According to the couple’s lawsuit, police had no description of the suspect when they presumed it was Austin. They didn’t hesitate to grab him, slam him against his garage, twist his arm in an attempt to handcuff him and tackle him to the ground on his own property.
“The way that they approached me, in their eyes I’m already convicted,” Austin said. “When they pulled up and they tell you that you’re the guy right out the gate, they’re coming at you with force and you don’t even know what’s happening. But you’re supposed to lay on the ground like a dog or run away like a dog rather than they treat you like a man. That means a lot that they feel like they can even do that sort of thing to every day people.”
Austin, who is 6 feet 5 and Black, tried to explain that he was not the man officers were looking for. The actual culprit was a 5-foot-7 white man, NBC News reported. The neighbor who reported the domestic disturbance even tried to interrupt the officers during the struggle with Austin, telling them he was not the offender. They ordered her to butt out and put Austin in a chokehold, the complaint alleged.
Michlewicz was in the shower when she heard the commotion. She rushed out to intervene and tried to pull one of the officers off her boyfriend as he attempted to put Austin in the chokehold. The two cops pushed her to the ground as well, knocking off the bathrobe she was wearing. Michlewicz’s nude body was exposed in broad daylight as a result, the lawsuit claims.
“It’s the ultimate level of disrespect to the point where I had to move,” Austin said. “You just have no idea what kind of damage something like this does to your actual reputation.”
Police arrested both Austin and Michlewicz. They languished in jail until 3 a.m. the following day, when they were released on $7,000 and $50,000 bond, respectively. Austin was charged with resisting arrest and assault on police officer. Michlewizcz was charged with violating California’s “lynching” law, a crime that makes it unlawful for a person to remove someone from police custody by means of a riot. The felony charge is punishable by up to four years in prison.
The couple contends officers used “unreasonable and excessive force” and inflicted both physical and emotional damages. They claim there’s no way responding officers knew who they were looking for because their neighbor was never asked to give a description of the suspect when she called 911.
In fact, during the 911 call, the woman said she wasn’t home and was heading to the police station. Before hanging up, she told dispatchers her ex-boyfriend was at Fat Sal’s, a deli about three blocks away from her house.
Gill received the bodycam footage last year. Both he and Austin reviewed it. They said the two responding officers are heard discussing the fact that they didn’t know what the suspect looked like.
“There’s a lot more things that will come out in this footage that we haven’t had a chance to show people yet that really shine a light on a whole bunch of what’s going on,” Austin said. “It’s just mind blowing what happened.”
Austin claims when he asked one of his arresting officers why he was being arrested, the officer responded, “I don’t know yet.” Another one of the officers claimed his body camera fell off as he was getting out of his patrol car. But when they were in a holding cell at the Hollywood police station, Austin said he could see officers watching the bodycam videos and laughing.
LAPD officials have declined to comment on the arrest, citing the ongoing litigation swirling around it, according to a CBS News affiliate in Los Angeles. But litigators from the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office rebutted the complaint with a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
According to court documents, city reps argue that Austin and Michlewicz provoked the officers’ aggressive response. City attorneys also sought to invoke qualified immunity to shield the involved officers from any retribution for the alleged rousting.
“I have absolutely no idea how Antone and Michelle are to blame,” Gill said. “All Antone was doing was bringing out his trash can. I mean, he wasn’t doing anything, and when they rolled up they arrested him. This is exactly why we want the bodycam footage released is because there is no blame. He didn’t take a swing at them, he didn’t hit them, he didn’t kick them, he didn’t curse, he didn’t punch. He didn’t do a damn thing.”
There’s also the issue of the criminal charges filed against Austin and Michlewicz the day of their arrest. Gill said they still stand in abeyance, with no movement on the case. They haven’t been dismissed. And in his March 1 motion to get the bodycam footage unsealed, Gill argued that investigators have yet to charge the couple with anything else.
“This is the weirdest thing,” Gill said. “It’s just in there. They could easily dismiss it, but haven’t dismissed it. … But they’re dragging their feet holding and holding them in abeyance, and it’s horrible.”
He claimed LAPD is not using the footage as evidence for any additional charges, and cited a May 22 phone call internal affairs detective Scott Vostad had with the City Attorney’s office. According to Gill’s motion, Vostad learned during the call that the city did not intend to add any new charges, but was leaving the case open for an unspecified reason.
“This undoubtedly begs the question of whether the City is leaving this option open for intimidation against the plaintiffs or is using it to argue that there is an ongoing investigation,” the motion stated.