HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – The family of an intellectually disabled man allegedly injured by Huntsville Police Department officers has filed a lawsuit against the city of Huntsville and the officers involved in the encounter.
According to the complaint filed in federal court, the co-guardians over Jeffrey Burton allege their brother experienced “unconstitutional violence” at the hands of two HPD officers on July 19, 2021, which led to his being hospitalized.
The lawsuit says Burton is an African American, 35-year-old man who has the mental capacity of approximately a 6-year-old. The complaint says in 2021 he was prone to wandering and had wandered to an apartment complex about half a mile from his home the night he encountered police.
A security officer at the apartment complex called HPD where Nicholas Light and another officer, only identified as Fictitious Officer A, were dispatched to the complex, according to the complaint. The lawsuit claims the security officer told law enforcement Burton appeared to either have a “mental issue” or was “high on drugs.”
The complaint says Light and Officer A exited their car with weapons drawn and proceeded to shock Burton multiple times with stun guns, force him to the ground, pull his pants down and handcuff him behind his back. Burton suffered a cut on the back of his head, after being taken down by the officers, among other injuries, the complaint alleges. Burton was not combative with officers, the lawsuit argues.
Paramedics arrived and Burton was taken to Huntsville Hospital about 30 to 40 minutes after his initial encounter with Light and Officer A, according to the court documents. The filing adds he was still handcuffed as he entered the hospital.
The lawsuit says, “As the hospital intake process continued, Light told Jeffrey: ‘If you try to get up again I’m going to throw you on the ground’. Then Light told Jeffrey, ‘You’re about to make me mad’. The next time Jeffrey attempted to stand up, Light swept Jeffrey’s legs out from under him, pushed him face-first into the hospital’s tile floor, and told Jeffrey, ‘I told you not to get up’.”
The complaint states Light and Officer A told their superiors Burton had admitted to “being high on meth for five days.” The complaint says that alleged admission is a sentence Burton is not mentally capable of forming.
Burton is reported to have spent five days in Huntsville Hospital after being pushed to the ground and no drugs were found in his system during a drug screen, the lawsuit says.
The complaint also alleges the City of Huntsville has a history of failing to investigate and hold police officers accountable after incidents of police violence.
“Even in instances where the HPD internal review board actually did find fault with an officer’s use of force and recommended or implemented discipline, on numerous occasions, the City actually overrode the board’s recommendations and reinstated or decided not to discipline the officers involved,” the lawsuit claims.
News 19 has reached out to the city of Huntsville about the lawsuit.
Huntsville City Attorney Trey Riley offered a response.
“The City of Huntsville has not yet been formally served with a copy of a lawsuit,” Riley said. “As is its usual practice, the City does not comment on pending litigation. Instead, the City will respond appropriately within the confines of the court system.”