A Texas man filed a lawsuit against the Harris County Sheriff's Office for allegedly choking him because he was smiling in his mugshot.
According to the lawsuit, when 38-year-old Christopher Johnson was arrested July 29, 2015 on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, he was choked by two Harris County jail employees because he was smiling in his mugshot photo during booking at the county jail, ABC News reports.
“This is how I always take my pictures..." Johnson told a guard, according to the lawsuit. "...I’m going to beat this case. Why wouldn’t I smile?”
“We gon’ to make you stop smiling,” a guard allegedly responded, the Houston Chronicle reports.
Johnson says he was choked for around 30 seconds by the two Harris County employees. One photo taken of him shows two officer's hands around and behind his neck while Johnson is smiling.
“While Mr. Johnson was handcuffed, two Harris County employees placed their hand around his neck, depriving him of the ability to breath, emasculating, and humiliating him in front of other Harris County employees and bystanders,” the lawsuit states.
Johnson claims to have suffered physical and emotional abuse from the incident.
“It was a willful violation of his civil rights and civil liberties, he should have the right to smile,” Andre Evans, Johnson’s attorney, told ABC News.
Evans hopes to “send a message that as attorneys we hear that the rumors about what takes place in the jail and type of treatment that they receive from the jail officers, and we are sending a message that that is not allowed.”
“We do hope for some reform in the jail policies and procedures, and more clarity,” he added.
The names and jobs of the men who allegedly choked Johnson were not included in the lawsuit.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that smiling is not prohibited in mugshot photos and that the alleged choking occurred because Johnson needed assistance with taking the photograph.
“It is not uncommon for detention personnel to assist impaired or uncooperative detainees while taking booking photographs,” the statement said. “An initial review of the photograph in question appears to be consistent with proper procedures for assisting an impaired detainee in order to obtain a photograph.”
The Harris County Sheriff’s Department believes proper procedure was followed during Johnson’s booking.
“Should any evidence arise to the contrary, proper administrative actions will be taken…," the statement continued. "...At this time, evidence suggests that Mr. Johnson’s pleading does not hold merit,” the statement said.
Johnson is seeking unspecified damages from Harris County, the deputy who arrested him and the two employees who choked him, according to the Houston Chronicle.
His driving while intoxicated case is still pending and he plans to plead not guilty.