A Black motorist has settled his federal lawsuit with the city of New Braunfels, Texas, for six figures after alleging his civil rights were violated during a traffic stop in 2020.
Clarence Walter Crawford says he was wrongfully stopped and struck with a Taser by a police officer who detained him because of his race.
The city has settled the case for $175,000 but is not admitting the officer did anything wrong.
In Crawford’s complaint, obtained by Atlanta Black Star, he names the city, former New Braunfels Officer Kaleb Meyer, and former New Braunfels Chief of Police Tom Wibertin as defendants. The suit claimed Meyer violated Crawford’s civil rights by using excessive force and performing unreasonable search and seizure.
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Crawford’s claim describes how he was on his way home from work early in the evening of Jan. 15, 2020, when he was “targeted and pursued” by Meyer on Interstate 35 in New Braunfels.
According to his lawsuit, Crawford believes he was not stopped because he “committed a traffic violation,” as suggested by the officer. He says he was stopped because of his gender and race, which were visible to Meyer because the officer had pulled up next to him at a stoplight before the Black man got on the interstate.
Meyer’s report of the incident differs. He says he pulled Crawford over because he had a “dirty” license plate on the white Pontiac he was driving. The then-23-year-old officer said he could not see the plate because of what looked like soot or dirt on it and was using a “guess” when he correctly relayed the plate numbers to dispatch during the pursuit.
He also alleges that Crawford refused to acknowledge his siren and lights and did not pull over on his own.
After being pulled over, according to the lawsuit, the officer used the Taser on him twice despite him posing no threat and having his face lying down on the ground. Meyers is accused of violating Crawford’s civil rights by using excessive force on the suspect.
“While keeping his left knee—and full bodyweight—on Crawford’s lower back, Meyer pushed Crawford’s face into the pavement and tased him a second time,” the federal claim states. “Meyer then handcuffed Crawford, continuing to hold Crawford’s face down on the pavement with his hand to his upper back/neck until the backup officer arrived.”
Lawyers representing Crawford say their client asked for the cuffs to be removed, but his request was denied by Meyer.
The complaint says the officer continued “to hold Crawford down until another NBPD officer arrived and instructed Meyer that she would take over.”
The city and Meyer’s legal team tried to get the suit dismissed before the trial in a San Antonio federal court. But the judge did not. Instead, in February of this year, U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez ordered both parties to start working on a settlement, the San Antonio Express-News reported. The money will be pulled from the Texas Municipal League’s liability insurance pool for municipalities.
The city’s legal representation, attorney Charles Frigerio, said, “There’s no admission of liability. We basically were just able to settle it.”
Paul Vick, Crawford’s attorney, said the city settled because they realized this “was an egregious case.”
Video of the majority of the incident was captured on Meyer’s police bodycam and patrol car’s dash camera. However, Meyer, who had only been on the force for less than one year, quit the department before the footage was made public.
The video showed Meyer approaching Crawford’s car with his gun drawn and telling him to put his hands on the steering wheel. It also captured Crawford asking why he was stopped and recording him with his cellphone. Eventually, Crawford complied and placed his hands on the steering wheel but continued to hold his cellphone.
“Please don’t shoot me, officer!” Crawford is later heard saying before he is removed from the vehicle. He shouted, “I’m Black,” the footage shows.
According to the lawsuit, Crawford was “arrested and taken to jail based on facts fabricated by Meyer (as verified by the body cam and dash cam video). New Braunfels police officers then booked Crawford into jail, where he remained until his wife was able to post bail.”
The Comal County District Attorney’s Office stated Meyer had probable cause to stop Crawford. However, the same office found the misdemeanor license-plate charge should have only resulted in a ticket.
After viewing the video, Vick said of his client, “In my opinion, Mr. Crawford was very courageous for pushing forward and making the city do the right thing.”
In a court motion made after the incident, District Attorney Jennifer Tharp said Meyer did not approach Crawford as if he was issuing a ticket. She said he walked up to the vehicle as if he was conducting a felony stop, specifically because he had already had his pistol drawn. The way he handled the stop also did not follow his department’s policy, according to Tharp.
Also, according to the lawsuit, the exposed gun, with Meyer’s finger on the trigger, caused immediate angst in Crawford.
Tharp said Meyer did not help the situation when he opted not to de-escalate the incident.
Both the DA and the then-police Chief Tom Wibert in 2020 believed all charges would be dropped in the best “interest of justice.”