Lawyer drops brutality claims against Harker Heights police

A police officer's body camera captured this image of the woman in the back of the car in which...
A police officer's body camera captured this image of the woman in the back of the car in which she was sitting. (Harker Heights Police Dept.)(KWTX)
Published: Jan. 10, 2018 at 9:29 AM CST
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The attorney representing a Central Texas woman in an alleged police brutality case announced early Wednesday on Facebook that he's no longer pursuing a civil rights claim.

S. Lee Merritt posted the announcement at around 3 a.m. Wednesday, about 12 hours after Harker Heights police Chief Mike Gentry categorically disputed claims that an officer “physically assaulted” a woman found asleep in the backseat of a car parked outside a hospital emergency room.

Leah Dure was arrested at around 5:20 a.m. on New Year’s Day for public intoxication after Officer Joshua Wood was sent to Seton Medical Center Harker Heights in a response to a call from a Killeen police officer who spotted the running vehicle in which Dure was sitting blocking the ambulance bay while at the hospital on an unrelated matter.

In the post early Wednesday, Merritt said that while the videos that police released Tuesday failed to show the moment Dure was pulled from the vehicle, “The absence of circumstantial evidence that a violent attack occurred during this missing period of recording, coupled with significant evidence that Ms. Dure suffered serious injury to her face prior to her arrest, makes further pursuit of a civil rights claim untenable."

Allegations against the department and the officer were circulated on social media after an earlier Facebook post in which the Philadelphia-based civil rights attorney claimed that Wood dragged Dure from the parked car, banged her face into the concrete while accusing her of drunken driving.

Merritt’s early-morning post Wednesday came after the attorney representing the officer demanded a retraction and that the viral post be deleted.

“It enlisted a very hate-filled response from the community from certain community members and it actually put officer wood and his family in danger and other officers in danger” McCabe said.

On Jan. 2, after Dure was released from custody, she and William Stewart III, whom police described as her boyfriend, “provided written statements asserting that an officer of the Harker Heights Police Department had assaulted and injured her during the arrest and booking process, claiming the injuries to her face and arms were as a result of this arrest,” Gentry said in a lengthy statement Tuesday.

An internal affairs investigation ordered on Jan. 3, however, “has substantially proven her claim to be false,” Gentry said Tuesday.

Dure had ridden to the hospital early on New Year’s Day with her boyfriend, who had an eye injury.

“According to her own comments, Dure was asleep in a vehicle that was parked inappropriately in an area that blocked the emergency entrance to the hospital,” Gentry said.

“That vehicle was running, not registered to her and she does not have a driver’s license. These facts along with the apparent evidence constituted a lawful arrest for public intoxication. She was clearly injured when contacted by the police and no actions by the police could have caused injury,” Gentry said.

The Killeen officer who first spotted the vehicle had “attempted to make contact with Dure...noticed her lieft eye being severely swollen and that she was uncooperative to his attempts to speak with her,” Gentry said in the statement.

She refused to get out of the vehicle and showed “obvious signs of intoxication,” he said.

Wood, who Gentry said is a “decorated military veteran with numerous overseas deployments” and “extensive experience in the Army Military Police Corps,” also observed Dure’s facial injuries.

Dure refused Wood’s request to get out of the vehicle and as he moved to pull her out, she slid to the passenger side and was removed by the unidentified Killeen officer.

She was handcuffed and then was taken to the police department’s holding facility.

“Although during the arrest…Wood did use strong verbal direction and at one pointed (pressed) her to the wall of the Harker Heights Holding Facility as she was uncooperative for a time during the booking process, at no time was she fought, thrown down or injured during the arrest,” Gentry said in the statement.

Instead, he said, she received the injuries during “a violent domestic dispute” that occurred at around 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 1 in Killeen.

The Killeen Fire Department and Killeen police responded to the dispute and Killeen officers observed “extensive injuries” to Dure’s face and noted that she was intoxicated “and had some signs of fresh bruising around her eyes,” Gentry said.

The social media post, however, says that while there was a fight at the New Year's Eve party, at least five people gave statements in which they said she wasn't injured when she left the party.

"She has absolutely no reason to make up this attack by law enforcement," the post says.

Not all information has been released because some aspects of the incident not related to the officer of the conduct may still be under investigation, Gentry said Tuesday.

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bell County District Attorney’s Office have been notified of the incident for the purpose of providing an external review”

After the news conference, Merritt said in a Facebook post that his investigation is ongoing.

"We will not stop pursuing justice on behalf of Ms. Dure until some physical evidence actually proves that she was not injured during the course of the arrest."