A southeast Texas town with a history of racial unrest on Monday fired two white police officers recently captured on video slamming a black woman’s head into a countertop and wrestling her to the ground.
“The amount of force used was abominable,” the woman’s attorney, Cade Bernsen, told Yahoo News.
The incident was captured by security cameras at the Jasper, Texas, police headquarters.
Keyarika “Shea” Diggles, 25, was brought to the jail on May 5 for an unpaid fine, according to Bernsen. He said she was was on the phone with her mother trying to arrange to get the $100 owed when Officer Ricky Grissom cut off the call.
There’s no audio on the video, but Diggles and Grissom were apparently arguing when Officer Ryan Cunningham comes in behind Diggles and attempts to handcuff her. When she appears to raise her hand, Cunningham grabs Diggles by the hair and slams her head into a countertop. The officers wrestle Diggles to the ground before dragging her by her ankles into a jail cell.
“She got her hair pulled out, broke a tooth, braces got knocked off … it was brutal,” Bernsen said.
Diggles was charged with resisting arrest for arguing with the officers, a charge dropped on Monday, according to Bernsen.
Cunningham, reached by phone Monday afternoon, hung up on a Yahoo News reporter. A message left for Grissom was not immediately returned.
The officers’ firing comes 15 years to the week after an infamous hate crime in Jasper, a town of about 8,000 people two hours northeast of Houston. James Byrd Jr., a black man, was tied to the back of a pickup by three white men and dragged for several miles until he was decapitated. The high-profile case triggered marches by the New Black Panthers and Ku Klux Klan.
Last year, a majority-white Jasper City Council fired the town’s first black chief after 16 months on the job. Rodney Pearson is now suing, claiming his civil rights were violated.
“It’s a different part of the world, man, it’s crazy,” said Bernsen, who’s also representing the fired police chief.
Jasper’s interim city manager confirmed the terminations, but referred questions about the Diggles case to the interim police chief, who was unreachable Monday afternoon.
“The more things change, the more they remain the same,” Jasper City Council Member Alton Scott said of the city’s racial troubles.
Scott obtained the video in the Diggles’ incident and turned it over to a local TV station after he heard that her written complaint against the officers was apparently being ignored.
“There’s nothing she said that could have justified what they did,” Scott said. “They are supposed to be trained professionals. They are supposed to be above that. It was inexcusable.”
After terminating the officers on Monday, the council requested that the pair be investigated for possible criminal charges. Bernsen said he hopes that probe is done by the FBI or state police.
“I don’t trust the Police Department as far as you can throw them,” he said.