'Backdoor' Search Of FBI Records Helps Parents Learn How Local Cops Killed Their Son

from the Texas-gives-bad-cops-free-rides dept

This long Austin American-Statesman investigative report details apparent police brutality as discovered by parents who were kept in the dark by local cops about how their teenaged son actually died. It all started with their 5’4″ 110-lb. 18-year-old suffering through a bad acid trip while hanging out with friends. It ended in the hospital with their son brain-dead, on life support, and the arresting agency unwilling to say anything more than their son had suffered a “head injury.”

To the law enforcement agency, it’s just another in-custody death. To the parents of Graham Dyer, it’s long-delayed closure to a chapter kept deliberately unfinished by the law enforcement agencies who took Dyer into custody and returned him to his parents more dead than alive.

In Texas, the system is stacked against victims of police misconduct. State law, upheld by court decisions, make it almost impossible to mount a lawsuit against law enforcement officers. Courts are generally receptive to law enforcement claims and extremely hesitant to strip officers of immunity, no matter how egregious the apparent civil rights violation. This situation is made much, much worse in Texas where documents needed to propel a lawsuit past a judge’s first reading often can’t be obtained from the law enforcement agency holding them.

State law says a police agency isn’t required to turn over records for incidents that don’t result in a conviction. Graham, who’d been charged with assaulting a police officer after the confrontation, had died before his case could be litigated. So, the department reasoned, his records were confidential. Asked to weigh in on the dispute, then-Attorney General Greg Abbott agreed the Mesquite police could refuse the Dyers’ request.

The most important part of this paragraph is two words in the last sentence: “could refuse.” The law does not forbid departments from handing over this information. It simply gives them a legal excuse not to. The Mesquite PD could have closed this tragic chapter in the Dyers’ lives, but doing so would have guaranteed a lawsuit. So, it withheld the records, ensuring the officers involved in Graham Dyer’s death remained free of accountability. It continued to deny release of the record, citing “ongoing investigations” that apparently involved one dead “suspect” and another arrestee, who had only been charged with public intoxication.

Faced with this hurdle, the Dyers approached the FBI, asking it to investigate Graham’s death. It performed an investigation, but informed the couple it could not find enough evidence to move forward with a federal civil rights lawsuit on the couple’s behalf. But it did open a door for the Dyers to obtain the evidence the Mesquite PD wouldn’t release.

Using the federal Freedom of Information Act, in early 2015 Kathy asked the FBI to turn over any records it had accumulated in its investigation of Graham’s death in Mesquite. That fall, police videos of the fatal evening started arriving.

The recordings are disturbing. Graham’s parents haven’t watched them, on the advice of their lawyer. (All images below a screengrabs from the video posted at the Statesman.)

There was, for example, the image of a Mesquite police officer standing with his foot on Graham’s head.

There was the image of Graham in the backseat of the police cruiser, his hands and feet bound — yet also unseatbelted or otherwise restricted — in obvious distress, hurling himself about the car. And then the ghostly image of a police officer’s hand with a Taser stun gun appearing in the camera frame, shocking Graham on the leg.

And then, pushing him on his back and shocking him again — this time directly, and apparently deliberately, in his testicles. And Graham screaming silently as the electric shock to his genitals appeared to be repeated.

The Statesman has also released 24 seconds of audio from the arrest. It contains just enough to add even more horror to the images above. It contains the tortured screams from the 18-year-old as he is tased by an officer. It contains another disheartening scream from Dyer, who was suffering through a bad LSD trip at the time of his arrest: “Where the fuck am I?” And, disturbingly, it contains an officer’s brutal statement as he tased the bound teenager: “Motherfucker, I’m going to kill you.”

That officer was correct. The Mesquite PD did kill Graham Dyer. It killed him to save him from himself, according to the PD.

“A Taser was deployed in an effort to control decedent, prevent escape and prevent him from injuring himself,” the city stated in court documents, adding the officer had been aiming for Graham’s leg and it was dark.

The PD also killed Dyer with indifference. By the time Dyer arrived at the jail, he was in terrible shape. But to the five officers on the scene, he was just a piece of inconvenient meat.

The videos of Graham as he was delivered to the jail also seemed at odds with the police department’s explanation of what occurred. According to the agency’s in-custody death report, upon arriving at the jail Graham had still needed to be placed in a special restraint chair “until the jail personnel noticed he was having labored breathing.”

Yet the video the Dyers received from the FBI depicts Graham lying limp on the sally-port floor after being lifted out of the cruiser. As he tries to raise his head, one of the officers pushes it back to the ground.

Records show it would be more than two hours before an ambulance was called.

The Dyers can finally move forward with their lawsuit. The presiding judge says the evidence obtained — no thanks to the Mesquite PD — shows they have a plausible civil rights claim. The PD obviously hoped its public records exemptions would keep the Dyers from successfully suing it, much less actually finding out what happened that night.

The government, far too often, insulates the worst of its employees against the public that’s entrusted it with power. In many ways, the system is deliberately designed to push citizens towards resigned acceptance of abuse by authority figures. The courts, meant to be a check against government power, have been far too compliant for far too long. The end result is the ugliness above where no one in a position of power will do anything to assist constituents until forced to. And they’ll will follow this up by doing as possible to deter future acts of violence and brutality. The cops involved in this arrest — and every government official that’s assisted in erecting a wall between police and accountability — should take a good, long look at the terrorized teen captured by the police cruiser’s camera and see if they still feel comfortable with their decisions.

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Comments on “'Backdoor' Search Of FBI Records Helps Parents Learn How Local Cops Killed Their Son”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: trust your government

…Relax — your elected officials, the courts, the news media, and your sacred right to vote… fully protect you from this kind of alleged police terrorism.

This incident happened in semi-rural Texas because they’re weird there.
This stuff NEVER happens in regions with enlightened progressive local governments … like Chicago, New York, Miami, San Francisco, L.A. , D.C. , New Orleans, etc etc.

Cops are chosen from the best & brightest of society — humble, peaceful public servants who hesitate to even say an unkind word to anyone. Sleep tight America.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: There but for the grace of God go I.

“by the people who are supposed to be protecting you and keeping you safe.”

That logic is what created this problem to begin with. Go ahead, keep asking for someone ELSE to ensure your safety, you will find they don’t give a shit about you and yours. They only give a shit about how well you can “obey” their commands.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: There but for the grace of God go I.

<blockquote> you could so easily be kidnapped and murdered (through negligence) </blockquote>
Nope. Negligence requires a lack of intent. Murder requires intent to kill, which may be formed in advance and expressed as Motherfucker, I'm going to kill you.'' but need not be.<br /><br />Normally intentional police killings are not prosecuted because it would make the officers feel bad.<br /><br />(No, I do not know who thought of this sillymarkdown” stuff. Sorry about that. Just pretend the HTML is working.)

Anonymous Coward says:

what makes things even worse, to my mind, is that in so many cases, the person who is at the least, physically abused, if not killed or basically allowed to die because of the Police indifference and brutality, is usually about half the size of any Police Officer! yet this individual receives this treatment because of how he/she violently attacks the Officers and how those Officers ‘fear for their lives’! these are no less than perpetrators themselves, acting like Nazi Storm Troopers but, like stated, just gang together and cover ass for each other! the senior police officers are the ones who need to be sacked and taken to court, just as much as those responsible for the acts themselves, because they know what happens/ed and sit back and do nothing!! disgraceful!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Watching the video Dryer clearly was flailing around on his own banging his head in the backseat of the cruiser. He stopped flailing around while being tased and I suspect the leos motivation to tease him was to get him to stop flailing around.

Maybe there were things the police could have done different such as restraining him better to protect him from himself. The leos likely need better training on how to deal with someone in this mental state.

But the root cause of Dryers death is his decision to take LSD.

Kay (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That seems not unlike saying that if a drunk girl gets raped, the root cause of her rape is her decision to drink. Hopefully we’re a little more enlightened than to make engage in that sort of victim blaming.

If a bad and unjust thing happens to you while you aren’t in a sober state of mind, the thing is still bad and unjust and the people who did it should not be given these lame ass excuses for what they did.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The leos likely need better training on how to deal with someone in this mental state.

Oh, they’re trained, all right. They’re trained that it’s better that 100 members of the public die than that an officer sprain something.

They know damned well how to restrain somebody without tasing them. And most of them know how to de-escalate, at least in theory. But they are also explicitly trained <em>not</em> to use those skills in many cases, because they are taught that their absolute top priority is their own safety. It’s safer to tase somebody into submission than it is to try anything that involves closer engagement than that.

Not that they don’t still whine all the time about how dangerous their job is, even though they don’t make the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the USA.

Of course, none of that explains "Motherfucker, I’m going to kill you!". For that, you have to get to the less formal officer training, which is that anybody who challenges your sacred authority is a scumbag who deserves anything you want to do to them.

That reinforces and is reinforced by the other formal training they get that says the most important thing to do is to establish control over every situation, and the most efective way to do that is to act tough.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I guess all the murders, rapes and robberies in TX have all been solved and the only thing cops have to do there is to beat up teenage boys to “help” them with their drug use.
The cause of his death was the brutal actions of the police…lots of people have taken LSD over the years and it wasn’t a death sentence for them. People on LSD need to be in a calm comfortable setting, not locked in a car, bound and electrocuted. A simple Google search could have given police this information on how to help people through and acid trip. I guess all 5 were too busy restraining, beating and electrocuting him to consider other options.
To add insult to injury, the police involved will likely get some paid time off and remain on the force with full benefits and pension.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“I suspect the leos motivation to tease him was to get him to stop flailing around.”

You’re conveniently ignoring that they tased him in the genitalia. That’s not a standard practice. That’s not a approved usage of the device. And that’s not an effective method of controlling someone, only torturing them.

And the cop saying, “Motherfucker, I’m going to kill you,” really doesn’t support any idea that they were concerned for his well-being.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Just fuck you you rotten piece of trash. Watching the things and hearing the audio left me very disturbed by the brutality these animals that call themselves cops were capable of. No matter what drugs he used the cops had clear advantage and could have just restrained him. This was clearly abusive, monstrous and the only way to defend their actions or blame the victim is to be a monster like the cops involved. Again, fuck you.

drkkgt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That would be assuming he took it on his own volition. Do you have proof of this? More importantly, did the cops have proof of this upon pickup or did they just assume he did without considering that he may have been a victim of someone slipping it to him? I mean if we follow your logic the root cause of this is that his parents let him out in the world, or had a son, or had sex, or met, …

However root cause or not, this is police brutality and they should be held to a higher standard – no matter how hard their job may be.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yes, because police officers are nothing more than forces of nature, totally incapable of making choices, unlike humans. In fact, they have no culpability in doing things like tasing someone in the balls in the course of leaving someone braindead, as unlike humans, they cannot help but act as their inherent nature dictates.

Oblate (profile) says:

Body cameras soon to be illegal in TX?

IANAL, but an officer saying "Motherfucker, I’m going to kill you." and then actually killing them- does that open up the possibility of charges of premeditated murder? With this video I don’t see how these officers could keep their qualified immunity in any place with even a minimal pretense of being lawful.

Anonymous Coward says:

What goes around comes around, the master will show them no pity when actual judgement comes, damned heathens. “Motherfucker, I’m going to kill you.” definitely proves intent, beyond the shadow of a doubt. Good thing he didn’t try to flee, they would have shot him in the back, at least six times just to be sure. I am sure at least one of Texas finest had a throw down in their vehicle. Odds say they walk but that the fallen one will use their mouths for his cock holster.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: How do we tell our Children

You’re more than 9 times more likely to be killed by the police than a terrorist.

Far more people are killed every year by the police than police officers. They’re all in the Thin Blue Line Gang.

It’s sickening the things they get away with. All the LIES they always tell. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for YOU, only for them.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: How do we tell our Children

It appears that the preference is for you to train your children to trust no one. That way they grow up paranoid about…well…everything. Which leads officialdom to be able to rationalize their despicable behavior by claiming ‘they are only delusional paranoid fanatics who hate the government and are therefore terrorists’ in any case where there is no other excuse to put the peon down.

Government for the government, by the government, and let the taxpayers bow down and accept our largess (bow a little lower over there).

David says:

Re: Re:

They wouldn’t have known where to start.

If there is a single officer killing people arbitrarily, it’s a job for the FBI. If the whole department has turned into a crime ring killing people without individuals standing out, it’s a job for Internal Affairs. Because, you know, qualified immunity is only gone when you behave extraordinarily in the execution of your duty. When the whole department is on a kill-and-coverup spree, you need to deal with them as a department and that’s not the FBI’s job.

Something like that.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The FBI was investigating if there was a Civil Rights violation. There wasn’t. Any civil suits won’t be based on that kind of violation.

BTW, ever tried to restrain someone on a bad acid trip? I have. “Motherfucker I’m going to kill you” is the kind of thing you utter when they headbutt you in the nose or a flailing limb hits you in the testes.

Yeah, the cops screwed up – a LOT. However, basing “guilt” on a few seconds of a longer video is crazy. You’d need to see the entire vid of them getting him down and into the car.

Anonymous Coward says:

This reiterates the proper handling of the police:

  1. Get the situation under control on your own. Do not involve the police unless required by law.
  2. Secure the scene. Eliminate any threats to officer safety.
  3. Call the police.
  4. If not prohibited by law, leave the area, lest the responding officers be so cowardly that they still feel the scene is a threat to officer safety. If you cannot legally leave the area, get as far as you lawfully can from the most likely threats to officer safety.
Anonymous Coward says:

Something to keep in mind

This wasn’t the first time. It couldn’t have been. The cops were too confident, too self-assured, too brazen. They knew that they could get away with this, because they’ve done it before — many times. They’ve beaten, they’ve raped, they’ve mutilated, they’ve killed without any consequences…which is exactly why they felt completely comfortable torturing this kid to death and even saying out loud that they were going to murder him.

These are sadistic serial murderers, they’re on a police force, and nobody is going to do a thing about it.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Something to keep in mind

Given the only reason it even might go to court this time is because the parents involved the FBI, and then when they failed to be any better they routed around them to get the evidence they needed… yeah, I’d say they’re likely quite used to getting away with stuff like this.

Furthermore, I’d put good odds on any judge looking at the evidence and seeing nothing wrong with what occurred, with a slap on the wrist, ‘Don’t get caught next time’ as the worst any of those responsible will likely face, because police are never wrong. With factors like that in play why wouldn’t they feel confident they could get away with murder?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Its just a few bad apples…
Unforeseeable outcomes…
You weren’t there you can’t understand…

Can we really stop pretending this is acceptable?
Can we stop unions from getting contracts that allow them to force terminated officers back onto the force?
Can we stop the thin blue line of silence?

Some cops won’t come forward because they know other cops will be slow to back up them going forward, how are they still employed?

They run like fucking gangs, who are protected at every fucking turn. Its time to shatter the pack mentality and remind them they are to protect & serve, not abuse & coverup.

Digitari says:

Now you know

why people that live in Texas have guns, we also have open carry, Only neighbors call the cops, not the people at the disturbance. (most neighbors hate each other here for some weird slight in the past)
We have a drug den across from where I live, we have called the Cops, then found out some cops stop by the drug den, for personal use. We will take care of it ourselves, then the Cops can investigate the aftermath.

Disclaimer: I was not born here, I just moved here for the sunshine.

Anonymous Coward says:

You got an American badge? Of any kind of police, border agency or other enforcement agency of the executive? You’d better be prepared for me to treat you like a sociopathic, murderous, sadist, rapist scumbag until you prove me otherwise. Because there are so many of those in those agancies that it is just too dangerous to treat you otherwise, and too many purported “good apples” protecting those monsters to ever trust anyone from any of those agencies. Every sane person should tremble in fear if they see anyone with an American badge. You know all those people calling for police to be shot on sight? I don’t endorse something like that, I an’t even condone it, but hell can I *understand* it. It’s the instincitve consequence of the fact that any presence of an officer makes you feel unsafe, because the balance of probabilities is, he is a predator, and you have absolutely no chance in hell to defend yourself against anything he will do to you. In the US, you can be tortured, raped, murdered for fun and games anytime, anywhere not by criminals, but by officials, and you have absolutely no defense.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I would disagree with this slightly; I don’t think the balance of probabilities is that a US police officer is a predator.

What I do think is that the risk calculation tends to lead to the conclusion that you’re safer assuming that any given officer is a “bad apple” than not doing so.

If you assume that a good officer is a “bad apple”, the best outcome is that the officer proves you wrong, and you go away with your situation (whatever it was) resolved satisfactorily. The worst outcome is that you offend the officer, make him a little more cynical and less likely to trust the public, and push him a little farther towards being a “bad apple”.

If you assume that a “bad apple” is a good officer, the best outcome is that he doesn’t happen to bother doing anything particularly bad that time. The worst outcome is that you end up dead, and the officer gets away with no meaningful punishment.

Even if we presume for the sake of argument that there are far fewer genuine “bad apple” officers than good ones (or at least ones who won’t do bad things unless they’re backing up a “bad apple”), the risk/reward calculation here is just so heavily unbalanced that the best decision is almost a foregone conclusion.

Assuming that an officer is good could get you killed; assuming that an officer is bad could offend somebody; and the flip-side positive results don’t remotely outweigh the negative possibility of getting killed.

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