Family sues Omaha police chief, 32 officers over Seward Street arrests -
Published Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 12:00 am / Updated at 2:48 am
Family sues Omaha police chief, 32 officers over Seward Street arrests

The Omaha family involved in a series of controversial arrests last March has filed a federal lawsuit against Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and the 32 officers who were at the scene during the incident.

Octavius, Juaquez and Demetrius Johnson, along with their mother, Sharee Johnson, and aunt Sharon Johnson, are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU argues that the March 21 arrests near 33rd and Seward Streets, which followed a call about a parking dispute, involved excessive force and search and seizure without a warrant.

The Omaha Police Department declined to comment, referring instead to the city's legal department. City Attorney Paul Kratz said city legal officials had expected the lawsuit and plan to defend the city's position.

"Chief Schmaderer took appropriate action after the incident to rectify future situations," Kratz said.

Four officers were fired after a recording of the arrests popped up on the Internet. The tape showed one officer, Bradley D. Canterbury, punching Octavius Johnson after the officer had thrown Johnson to the ground.

It did not show the chaotic scene the lawsuit describes inside the home, where officers allegedly chased Juaquez Johnson, toppling over his his aunt, who uses a wheelchair, in the process.

Officer James Kinsella was later accused of taking a memory card and camera operated by the brothers from inside the family's home and was charged with tampering with evidence. His supervisor, Sgt. Aaron Von Behren, who was said to have orchestrated a cover-up, also was charged in the incident.

Kinsella, Von Behren, and another fired officer, Justin A. Reeve, did not appeal their terminations. Canterbury took his case to an arbitrator, who has not yet issued a decision.

All charges against the Johnson brothers were dropped.

The family is seeking compensation for medical expenses and property damage, among other claims.

The lawsuit alleges that the city removed scrap metal from a truck that was impounded after the arrests and did not return it to the family. It also notes that the family had to pay $300 to retrieve its dogs from the Nebraska Humane Society, where they were taken after the incident.

The Johnsons also are asking for punitive damages against four officers and for Omaha police officers to receive additional training about the rights of people who film police activities.

In a statement released by the ACLU, Octavius Johnson said he feels he is “on the opposite end of justice.”

“I have seen incidents like this happen to other people,” he said. “I now know that something like this could happen to not just my family, but any family.”

Contact the writer: Erin Golden    |   402-444-1543    |  

Erin covers the Omaha City Council and the Mayor's Office.

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