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Lawrence skateboarder injured during arrest files lawsuit against ex-officer, prosecutors

An ex-Lawrence police officer allegedly constructed a criminal case against a skateboarder in an attempt to avoid, essentially, the excessive force lawsuit that has now been filed in federal court.

Duc M. Tran, now 45, was arrested in June 2019 by former officer Brad Williams. Williams stopped Tran skateboarding in the street in downtown Lawrence.

What happened next was not captured by any patrol vehicle cameras — the arrest occurred before the Lawrence Police Department started using body cameras — but it was caught on audio, and the verbal interaction is detailed in the case filing (see below).

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The lawsuit, filed Friday, lists as defendants Douglas County, the Douglas County Commission, LPD, the city of Lawrence and city commissioners, Williams, former Chief Assistant Douglas County District Attorney Amy McGowan, former Douglas County Assistant District Attorney LeTiffany Obozele and the former chief of LPD.

The case alleges that Williams broke Tran’s left elbow, dislocated his shoulders and chipped one of his teeth while arresting him with excessive force. Tran was taken to the Douglas County jail, but he was released without being charged.

When attorney Mark Schoenhofer sent a letter to the Lawrence Police Department instructing them to preserve all evidence from Tran’s arrest as a civil case may be forthcoming, “Williams immediately reacted. After learning of counsel’s letter, despite his previous assurance to Tran that he was not ‘charged,’ Williams prepared an affidavit and presented it to the District Attorney’s Office,” the lawsuit states.

“The affidavit was filled with lies. Both Williams and McGowan knew the charges were manufactured for the sole purpose of protecting Williams from his exercise of excessive force and his needless and cruel infliction of physical injuries on Duc Tran,” the complaint continues.

The criminal case, and issues surrounding it, were covered in detail by Lawrence media before the Times was founded. Schoenhofer brought to the court’s attention another case from Lawrence Municipal Court in which that judge dismissed a case after finding that Williams’ testimony and written report in a case did not align with audio-video evidence. Ultimately, prosecutors dismissed the charges against Tran “for necessity” in November 2020.

The lawsuit claims five counts: Excessive force, failure to train and supervise, negligence, battery, and malicious prosecution. It seeks a jury trial and requests compensation for Tran’s physical, mental and emotional suffering, plus punitive damages “in an amount to be determined at trial in order that such award will deter similar proscribed conduct by Defendants in the future.”

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Attention from governor’s commission

The case was mentioned Thursday during a meeting of the Governor’s Commission on Racial Justice and Equity.

Gary Steed, executive director of the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training, was asked how officers could be found to have perjured themselves and still be on the police force. Steed said he was not familiar with this particular case, but generally, untruthfulness could be grounds to revoke an officer’s certification.

He said if an officer had been convicted of perjury (Williams was not), that would be an easy case for CPOST to investigate through court records. Steed noted that untruthfulness was different from a “Brady-Giglio” violation, however.

Put very simply, Brady v. Maryland and Giglio v. United States were landmark Supreme Court cases that ruled that prosecutors must turn over all evidence that could show that a defendant was not guilty to defense attorneys. That includes information that could make a jury question a particular witness’s credibility — for instance, if a witness had been granted immunity in exchange for their testimony.

If an officer commits a “Brady” violation, that would generally mean they had withheld exculpatory evidence or fabricated evidence. “Giglio” evidence would generally be information showing that an officer had previously been untruthful, had shown racial bias or other such acts. All of it could be critical to a defendant getting a fair trial, and many prosecutors won’t allow officers with Brady-Giglio violations to testify in their cases.

“Nowhere in the training act does it say that you can’t be an officer if your testimony can be impeached,” Steed said. “… There are plenty of officers out there who have Brady-Giglio violations. The problem with that is it’s handled different in every legal jurisdiction in Kansas.”

CPOST keeps a public list of officers who have had their certification suspended or revoked. Williams is not on it. His employment with the Lawrence Police Department ended Jan. 6, 2021, but he has since testified during a jury trial in Douglas County District Court. He’s now selling insurance.

— Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached via email at mclark@lawrencekstimes.com or 785-422-6363.

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