A Keller police officer tackled and handcuffed a 12-year-old who was playing with a Nerf gun in his neighborhood, according to a lawsuit filed by his mother.
Tiffany Paradise and her attorneys filed the lawsuit against several Keller police officers on behalf of her son on Aug. 3. in the Fort Worth division of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Paradise is represented by Scott Palmer and James Roberts with Scott Palmer P.C.
Keller police did not respond to requests for comment.
“It’s had a pretty big impact on the little boy,” Roberts said. “He’s had to go to counseling. He’s scared to go play in his neighborhood. He was a 12-year-old boy who was out having fun in his neighborhood, and now he doesn’t want to do anymore. It basically stole his innocence.”
According to the suit, Paradise’s 12-year-old son — referred to as H.W. in court documents — was playing near his back yard in Keller in August 2020 with an orange and blue Nerf gun. Unbeknownst to him, someone in the neighborhood called police and reported they saw a Hispanic man, possibly carrying a black gun, in the area. Keller police officer Matthew Wheeler responded to the call and headed to the neighborhood.
When Wheeler arrived, he saw H.W. — who is white — and got out of his car and ran toward him, the suit alleges. Wheeler yelled at H.W. to put his hands in the air, according to the lawsuit, and the child dropped his toy gun. H.W. fell to his knees and put his hands up, the suit says, and Wheeler tackled him to the ground.
Wheeler put his knee on H.W.’s back — which the suit says was “clearly excessive” and caused H.W. “to suffer pain and injuries” — and handcuffed the confused boy. When Wheeler was on top of H.W., according to the suit, Wheeler asked him, “Why you running, man?” to which H.W. responded, “I’m sorry I didn’t know you were coming for me.” Wheeler replied, “Don’t (expletive) lie to me,” the suit says.
Wheeler and two other officers, who are also named as defendants in the suit, walked H.W. to a curb and made him sit down at 6:25 p.m. In Wheeler’s incident report — sections of which were included in the lawsuit — Wheeler notes that officers found the Nerf gun near H.W.
At 6:30 p.m., the officers read him his Miranda rights, even though, the lawsuit says, it would have been obvious at this point that the 12-year-old child with a Nerf gun was not the Hispanic man the police were looking for. Police should have released the boy immediately, but instead kept him in handcuffs for 14 minutes, the suit says.
“(Police) response has to change depending on what they find,” Roberts said. “This is a 12-year-old boy with his arms up, on the ground, and he was scared, he was terrified.”
The boy was restrained in handcuffs with his legs crossed “like a hardened criminal,” until his mother arrived at 6:39 p.m., according to the suit. Only when Paradise asked for her son to be taken out of handcuffs was he released, she said. When Paradise arrived, H.W. was “scared, crying and hurt,” the suit says, and had scratches and tears on his face.
After H.W. was detained by police, H.W.’s father called Keller police officer Blake Shimanek to ask to see the body-camera footage of his son’s arrest, the suit says. Shimanek told H.W.’s father he had reviewed the video and it might be hard for H.W.’s parents to watch due to Wheeler’s use of force against their son, the suit says. Shimanek told H.W.’s father that he believed nothing about the use of force was inappropriate.
The same month H.W. was detained by police, Shimanek, who was a sergeant at the Keller Police Department at the time, pepper-sprayed and arrested a father who was filming his son’s traffic stop. Marco Puente filed a lawsuit against Shimanek alleging excessive force, and the case gained national attention.
When H.W.’s parents found out about Shimanek’s use of force against Puente, they decided they should see the body-cam footage themselves “since they no longer trusted Shimanek’s opinion on what use of force was and was not appropriate.” Shimanek was eventually convicted of official oppression in the incident involving Puente and resigned from the police department in February 2021.
However, the Keller Police Department told H.W.’s parents the video was no longer available. According to the suit, the video had been destroyed. The suit says it is Keller Police Department’s policy to keep video footage of uses of force against minors. Keller police did not immediately respond to questions about what their body-camera retention policy entails.
A sergeant with the Keller Police Department told H.W.’s parents in a letter that an Internal Affairs investigation did not find that Wheeler’s use of force was excessive. However, according to the suit, the sergeant’s letter said the internal investigation included a review of reports, calls for service and interviews — but did not include review of any video footage.
The suit alleges Wheeler’s use of force against H.W. was clearly excessive, even according to Wheeler’s own incident report. In the incident report cited in the lawsuit, Wheeler wrote that H.W. “was scared but compliant” with his orders, and was put into handcuffs without incident.
The suit argues parts of Wheeler’s report were fabricated to try to justify the use of force. In the report, Wheeler wrote that as he ran toward H.W., the boy was “dipping his right hand toward his right side waist line.” According to the suit, H.W. did no such thing — when Wheeler told him to get on the ground, H.W. put both hands in the air.