McKINNEY, Texas — The latest law enforcement officer to fuel the national uproar about race and policing once jailed an African-American man for a defective headlight and was sued by another man for racial profiling, excessive force and other civil rights violations.
McKinney police Cpl. Eric Casebolt, who is white, was thrust into the country’s ongoing controversy about police conduct this week after a video of him responding aggressively to a disturbance at a suburban pool party went viral on social media. On the footage shot last Friday, Casebolt is seen drawing his gun on unarmed African-American teens and throwing one of them, a 15-year-old girl wearing a bikini, to the ground.
The McKinney chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution honored Eric Casebolt after he was selected 2008 Officer …
Casebolt resigned late Tuesday as civil rights protesters descended on McKinney, a predominately white suburb north of Dallas. At a news conference, his civil attorney Jane Bishkin said the officer left his job of 10 years “with a heavy heart,” and apologizes his actions but maintains, “He was not targeting minorities.”
Neither of Casebolt’s attorneys responded to messages left by Yahoo News seeking comment for this story.
Tommy Brown of Dallas was watching the controversial video on a local TV news report earlier this week when a broadcaster identified the officer involved as Eric Casebolt.
“Casebolt!” Brown recalls shouting. “That’s his name! This is the guy that took me to jail. I never will forget that name.”
Nor will he forget the charge that put him behind bars: defective headlight.
“Who goes to jail over a headlight?” said Brown, who is black and grew up in McKinney. “If I was a different color, I believe I wouldn’t have been going to jail for a headlight.”
McKinney officials have yet to release Casebolt’s personnel file, which should reveal his training, commendations and any complaints filed during his tenure.
Yahoo News has requested copies of those documents, but was able to gather information on Casebolt’s career from other public records.
Casebolt worked nearly two years as a state trooper before joining the McKinney force, according to the office that licenses Texas officers. His state files show no history of discipline and that he has completed more than 2,200 hours of training — including classes on cultural diversity, crisis intervention and racial profiling.
“That’s pretty good for someone that’s on patrol and often has a tough time getting the time off to go to classes,” a veteran law enforcement officer told Yahoo News.
In 2008, Casebolt was selected McKinney’s “Officer of the Year” and later honored with a commendation and medal by the Sons of the American Revolution local chapter.
“Who goes to jail over a headlight?”
That was one year after the Jan. 16, 2007 traffic stop that landed Brown in jail.
Tommy Brown after his arrest for a defective headlight in 2007. (Collin County, Texas Jail)
Brown, who has a history of misdemeanor convictions, had just graduated technical college and had landed a job. “I was clean,” Brown told Yahoo News. “I didn’t have any warrants, my driver’s license was good and I had insurance on the car.”
The auto mechanic admits having smoked marijuana before getting in the car, but said he was not high while driving. He said his shirt likely smelled of pot when Casebolt stopped him for the headlight. “But he was very adamant about me selling some drugs,” said Brown, who is now 45.
In below-freezing weather, Brown said he stood for nearly an hour while the officer checked and re-checked his car.
“There wasn’t any papers, paraphernalia, any roaches, no seeds, no nothing,” he said. “The car was clean. He just wasn’t hearing it.”
As the hour wore on, Brown said Casebolt began threatening him with jail.
“He said, ‘I know you deliver some marijuana here in McKinney. I’m gonna put you in jail and I’m going to go to the East Side and anybody I find with some drugs or marijuana, I’m going to charge you for it.’”
Insufficient probable cause
Brown’s experience with Casebolt is similar to an account given by McKinney resident Albert Earl Brown, Jr., (no relation to Tommy) who would later file a civil rights lawsuit against the officer.
According to a police report, Casebolt spotted Albert Brown parked in his car and obstructing traffic shortly before midnight April 21, 2007.
Click image to read Judge Curt Henderson’s entire ruling suppressing the evidence from Eric Casebolt’s arrest of …
Albert Brown, now 33, could not be reached for this story, but in court documents, wrote that he was only in the street briefly to drop off two white female friends when Casebolt approached.
Casebolt didn’t issue a citation, but wrote in a police report that he spotted an open beer on the passenger floorboard and marijuana seeds and cash in the center console. He also describes Albert Brown and the two women acting suspicious.
By all accounts, Albert Brown was at first cooperative. A check of his driver’s license returned no active warrants, despite a lengthy rap sheet for drugs and other non-violent offenses.
He consented to Casebolt searching him and the car. The officer found $180 in Albert Brown’s pocket and $50 and two marijuana seeds in the car.
“With all the nervousness, implausible and contradicting stories, I believed that someone was in possession of illegal drugs,” Casebolt wrote in his report.
Teaching others how to identifying liars, cheats and misfits has apparently been a part-time job for Casebolt. Before last week’s incident at the pool party, the 41-year-old was a featured instructor trainee on the website for Executive Self-defense and Fitness, which provides private lessons to law enforcement and citizens.
According to a bio of Casebolt posted on the site, “He has a strong working knowledge of human behavior, indicators of deception, criminal behavior, the development of situation awareness, and experience in the use of all levels of force.” The description has since been removed.
In the Albert Brown case, Casebolt asked a female officer to search the 17-year-old and 44-year-old women. Though nothing illegal was found, Casebolt later wrote in his police report that he ordered the younger woman to sit in the back of his patrol car, “to make it appear to the other suspects that she was going to jail.”
Then Casebolt asked the female officer to search the 17-year-old again. This time, a small baggie of marijuana was found in her waistband. The teen told Casebolt it belonged to Albert Brown and, “That’s not all he has.”
Casebolt asked Albert Brown if he could search him again, according to the arrest report. “Yes, sir, but you just searched me.” The officer said Albert Brown began to struggle. “I pushed Brown onto the hood of his car, fearing he may pull a weapon out of his pants, and I told him he was under arrest [for the traffic offenses].”
Several rocks of crack cocaine were found in Albert Brown’s waistband. Casebolt alleges Albert Brown tried to wiggle free from the handcuffs and even grab the officer’s gun.
Albert Brown was arrested for felony drug possession. The two women were released without being charged. Ten days later, after viewing patrol car video of the arrest, police added attempting to disarm an officer to Albert Brown’s charges.
Unable to afford bail, Albert Brown sat in the county jail for more than two years on the Casebolt arrest and an unrelated cocaine charge from 2006.
On the charges stemming from the Casebolt case, a judge eventually suppressed the evidence, agreeing that the officer obtained it without an arrest or warrant.
“Officer Casebolt’s belief that there was illegal drug activity going on was simply based on a hunch after the initial searches had been conducted,” wrote Collin County District Judge Curt Henderson wrote on Dec. 8, 2008. “Officer Casebolt did not have any additional facts or basis to detain Mr. Brown, other than completing a citation if he chose to do so.”
Prosecutors initially offered Albert Brown a plea deal of 22 years in prison. But on May 7, 2009 — 747 days after his arrest — the Collin County District Attorney dropped both charges. There’s no explanation why four months passed between the judge’s order and the charges being dropped.
While waiting in the county jail, Albert Brown filed his own federal civil lawsuit against Casebolt and the other officers at the scene. He had been told about what was on the patrol car video, and claimed in his suit that the tape includes no evidence of him reaching for Casebolt’s gun.
“He only says this so the police won’t get into troble (sic) for jumping on me,” Albert Brown claimed in his handwritten jailhouse petition. He said officers repeatedly slammed his head into the hood of a car.
Albert Brown spent more than two years in jail before the charges originated by Officer Casebolt were thrown out. …
James Whalen was Albert Brown’s court-appointed attorney for the criminal charges stemming from the Casebolt arrest. At one time Whalen had a copy of the hour-long police video, but said he gave it back to his client years ago.
“Albert says they roughed him up, but I wouldn’t characterize it as that based on what I remember,” Whalen told Yahoo News.
The federal lawsuit alleges racial profiling, excessive force, filing false police reports, and other civil rights violations. Albert Brown claims the traffic stop started with Casebolt making “some coments (sic) about me the white girls that were with me and my clothes.”
In court papers, Casebolt and the other officers denied any wrongdoing.
It appears Albert Brown never knew or understood that Judge Henderson had signed the order tossing out the illegal evidence. On Jan. 30, the 10 th grade dropout mailed a hand-written motion to dismiss his federal lawsuit.
“Due to my education level (sic) and my lack of understanding it is to (sic) difficult to maintain a hold on to every understanding and interpet (sic) the complexity of my case,” he wrote, also noting his anxiety after being behind bars.
“Your honor every word I have stated is true in my lawsuit (sic), I don’t wish to be an inconvence (sic) to the Courts by not having all in hand evidence witch (sic) is being held in relation to my pending charge on state matters,” he wrote.
A 2010 attempt by Albert Brown to resurrect the lawsuit was denied by a federal judge.
Tommy Brown spent the night in the county jail before posting a $136 fine to be released on the defective headlight charge.
He thought about filing a complaint against Casebolt with the police department, but instead requested a jury trial to hear the headlight charge in traffic court.
“Of course I lost, but it was exciting to me having him in there wasting time like he wasted mine,” Tommy Brown said.
Tommy Brown said he had put the matter behind him until last weekend.
“It came back to light real quickly,” he said. “The arrogance. Instantly, I knew exactly what the problem was, who it was and everything.”