Attorneys for Christopher Shaw, who was paralyzed in Texas police custody, call for DOJ probe

Attorneys for Christopher Shaw, a Black man paralyzed while in Beaumont, Texas, police custody, announced Wednesday they have asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the city for what they called a history of excessive force and unlawful detainment. 

“We now have subpoena power afforded to us by the federal courts,” said Harry Daniels, Shaw’s attorney. “We are in the process of getting everything … that shows that the city of Beaumont has a custom where their officers engage in unlawful use of force, and it is swept under the rug.” 

Daniels added the FBI has been “asking questions about things here in Beaumont” and an inquiry seems to be underway already.

Shaw, 41, was arrested in 2020, accused of public intoxication in Jefferson County. While at the county sheriff’s office, Beaumont police officer James Gillen allegedly body-slammed Shaw to the ground. With his hands handcuffed behind his back, his attorneys say, Shaw’s head hit the concrete ground of the jail and, as a result, he suffered “several spinal fractures” and he was paralyzed.

The request to the DOJ comes after Shaw’s attorneys filed a federal lawsuit in the Eastern District of Texas on July 14. They have also filed a lawsuit against Core Health, the medical providers inside Jefferson County Jail, for “deliberate indifference” to Shaw’s condition while in custody. Lawsuits against Gillen and the city of Beaumont have also been filed.

According to Daniels, Shaw was taken to Baptist Hospital and cleared to be sent back to the jail after the incident. However, unreleased video footage also showed he was unable to move. He was placed in a holding cell for nearly 20 hours, Daniels added, laying on the floor “begging for help.”

“He eventually soiled himself and … told the jail staffer that if he died, it would be on her head,” said Daniels.

Beaumont police did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

Shaw’s attorneys on Wednesday called for the release of police video footage of the incident, which has been seen by all of Shaw’s attorneys, the Beaumont chief of police and Shaw’s sister. Daniels said they have been ordered by the Texas attorney general not to publicly share the video for security reasons.

Chance Lynch, also representing Shaw, said the video was one of the “most disturbing” he’d seen in his career. 

“When we saw this video, we really thought we watched him die,” said Lynch.

Daniels was joined Wednesday by the Rev. William J. Barber II, co-chairman of the Poor People’s Campaign, and representatives from the NAACP and Rainbow PUSH Coalition. 

Candice Matthews, statewide steering committee chairwoman for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, said the incident is indicative of “America’s chaos.”

“We’re dealing with rogue cops that operate with ignorance and authority,” she said. “And that is a dangerous combination, because the end result is what has happened to our dear brother Christopher Shaw.”

Michael Cooper, president of the Beaumont chapter of the NAACP, said the demands for investigation are not an attack upon the city or its officers but a call to look upon institutions around the country. 

“We have to look at our institutional laws and processes in order to have the transparency that we as citizens deserve,” said Cooper.

In a separate press conference Thursday with Shaw, Barber called on Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to allow the release of the video. The Hill reached out to Abbott’s office for comment.

“Any politician that cares about justice that are running for office should be demanding the release of the videos,” Barber said.

“This is not a case against all police,” Barber continued. “It is a case against an officer who was sworn to protect and serve in the name of the people but instead abused his power and destroyed the life of another human being.”

Updated Thursday at 4:39 p.m.

Attorneys for Christopher Shaw, who was paralyzed in Texas police custody, call for DOJ probe

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