Mesquite, TX — As the Free Thought Project reported last year, police were caught on video tasering a young man’s testicles and his body — until he died. Then, in June of 2017, we learned that although the Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson found that the officers involved had committed a crime during their torture — they cannot be charged. After a series of horrifying experiences, however, the family has finally seen some semblance of justice as a federal judge ruled this week that the family’s lawsuit can proceed against police.
Last year, to add insult to unaccountable injury and death, according to court documents, the cops defended their tactics, calling their torturous acts that fateful night, standard procedure.
Before the lawsuit was allowed to proceed by the federal judge this week, Mesquite police officers Jack Fyall, Richard Houston, Alan Gafford, Zachary Scott, William Heidelburg and Bill Hedgpeth, the ones responsible for the death of Graham Dyer, asked the judge to dismiss it.
“If I could go back in time and have this case, it would be indicted,” said Michael Snipes, the first assistant district attorney. “We would have pursued criminally negligent homicide charges.”
Showing that this lawsuit is only a partial victory, however, these charges cannot be brought now — in spite of the family only recently finding out about their son’s horrifying death — cops kept the footage of it secret long enough for the statute of limitations to expire.
As My Statesmen reported at the time, such charges cannot be brought more than three years after the incident, which came to the district attorney’s attention as the result of an American-Statesman investigation earlier in the year. And while there is no such limitation on the higher charge of manslaughter, Snipes said the officers’ behavior that contributed to Graham’s death didn’t reach the level of a knowing disregard for his life.
Even though the judge agreed that police had not been negligent in caring for Graham, she still allowed the lawsuit to continue.
But, to Kathy Dyer, the negligence is glaring. “If I had seen Graham behaving like that I would have gotten him to the hospital as quickly as possible,” she said. “Simple as that. Anyone else would do the same for anyone they care even a little bit about. But they didn’t do that for Graham. No one was there to help. How do you justify that?”
On August 14, 2013, Kathy and Robert Dyer got a phone call one night that is every parent’s nightmare — their son, Graham, was in the hospital. The 18-year-old boy had been severely injured during a struggle with police and was fighting for his life — a fight he would lose.
When Kathy and Robert got to the hospital that night, police refused to let them see their son. “They said he was in serious trouble — that he had felony charges for assaulting an officer,” Kathy recalled.
Graham had taken LSD that night and his friends called police after he had a bad reaction to it. Police claimed Graham injured himself as they drove him to jail. While the video does show Graham flailing back and forth, police failed to mention to the parents that they’d tortured him, repeatedly, with a taser — including deploying it on his genitalia. It is for this reason that only one of the cops will be sued in the lawsuit—Gafford—who conducted the torture.
Even though they were originally inclined to believe police, Dyer’s parents continued to ask more and more questions, like what were all those “chicken feet” scratches all over Graham’s body? Or, why did the emergency room doctor’s notes say Graham appeared to be a victim of assault?
However, when Kathy and Robert went down to the Mesquite police department, they were not given answers to any of their questions — because police weren’t required to answer any of them. For years, police would keep the details of Graham’s death a secret.
According to the ridiculous state law, police departments aren’t required to hand over records for any incidents that don’t result in a conviction. Since police killed Graham before he was able to stand trial for his alleged crimes, they were shielded from handing over the evidence.
For years, the Dyers would fight to get this information from police. Eventually, because of their persistence, the Dyers finally obtained the video footage from their son’s last hours alive. When they viewed it for the first time, they realized everything police said that happened that night was a lie.
Those chicken feet scratches, they would learn, were from taser prongs.
The family hired Susan Hutchison to build a civil rights case against the department. During her investigation, horrifying details emerged.
As My Statesman reports, Hutchison said the additional information contained more troubling details about Graham’s interaction with the police. Taser records indicated four officers shocked him multiple times, she said. As Graham is being stunned with a Taser in the back seat of the cruiser, one can be heard saying: “Mother[expletive], I’m going to kill you.”
And kill him they did.
At one point in the horrifying video, an officer is seen sadistically deploying the taser directly on Graham’s penis. It’s as if these officers enjoyed causing harm to this clearly distressed boy.
When asked about the use of the tasers, the department wrote it off as standard procedure.
“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.
In court filings released last year, the officer seen shocking Graham in the groin explains that what appears to be occurring in the video isn’t what really happened, according to the Statesmen. And the officer who issued the death threat dismisses it as a “control tactic.”
However, in the video, we can clearly see the cop hold the taser to Graham’s genitals. This is, by no means, standard procedure to ‘prevent suspects from hurting themselves.’
Police are denying reality and claim that despite video evidence showing them taser the young man in the genitals, they never tasered the young man in the genitals.
In an affidavit describing his recollection of what occurred that night, Gafford, a 17-year police veteran, stated that no matter what appears to be happening in the video, he didn’t shock Graham in the crotch, according to a report out of the Statesman.
“I attempted to apply (my) Taser in a drive stun mode to stop his violent resistance and ended up tasing him in the upper thigh,” Gafford wrote. “Although the night vision video camera appears to depict this was in the groin area, it was the upper inner thigh.”
Scott, a police officer for 7 years, added that when he said, “I’m going to kill you,” it was only an attempt to control the teenager.
“I used harsh language during that stop out of frustration and also as a control tactic as I have learned that sometimes harsh language will get a person’s attention and achieve some cooperation,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, it did not work with Mr. Dyer.”
Even with this lawsuit, the Dyers keep hitting roadblocks in holding these cops accountable, like the statute of limitations protecting the criminal cops who killed their son.
As Hutchison said, police departments “In effect, have complete immunity and no accountability—at least in Texas.”
The Dyers aren’t even going after money. As My Statesman reports, Robert said his goal for the lawsuit is modest: “I just want them to say they fucked up.”
“I’m not saying doing LSD wasn’t stupid,” Kathy said. “And things happen. But this should have never happened.”
In spite of this selfless family getting railroaded by the corrupt system, they have taken action to make sure this doesn’t happen to other families.
As the Statesmen reports, Kathy and Robert testified in front of legislators in support of a bill that could help other families in their position.
Sponsored by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, House Bill 3234 would have compelled law enforcement agencies to release their investigative records if, like Graham, the suspect had died, or, if not, gave his consent to their release. The couple’s emotional testimony appeared to move several of the lawmakers on the state House Committee on Government Transparency and Operation.
However, thanks to the police state worship in Texas, the bill only made it out of committee and then died.
The family has now pledged that they will fight to the end for justice.