Chokehold

A run-in with police left Godwin Omokaro blind and brain-damaged, but a federal judge won't let a jury even consider whether his rights were violated

They moved in together, and Omokaro treated Courtney's 6-year-old daughter like his own. He also convinced Courtney to go back to school and supported her while she obtained her nursing degree. "He helped me in my goals and perspectives in coming up," says Courtney, who works as a surgical nurse at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. "And he helped me raise up my daughter too."

Equally ambitious for himself, Omokaro wanted something more challenging and lucrative than a security-guard job. His friend Kingsley Emokpae, a DART bus driver, recommended him for a position at DART. Several years after he first applied, an opening finally became available, and in his inimitable way, Omokaro quickly distinguished himself. He was one of the few applicants to finish the probation period with a superior rating -- no easy feat, according to a congratulatory note the senior manager for bus operations sent him.

"I haven't personally experienced it, but I gather that it is a lot of pressure to maintain a superior record for six months while on probation," the manager wrote in another letter Omokaro preserved in his scrapbook. "I am happy to know you see hundreds of thousands of our patrons daily, because I know that in you, they will see a positive, safe side of DART."

Officer Kyle Hensley scraped his knuckles while trying to handcuff Omokaro.
Mark Graham
Officer Kyle Hensley scraped his knuckles while trying to handcuff Omokaro.
Since the police incident, Ramona Courtney has been a constant source of support for Omokaro, with whom she had lived for six years.
Mark Graham
Since the police incident, Ramona Courtney has been a constant source of support for Omokaro, with whom she had lived for six years.

Omokaro was one of DART station manager Joe Lumpkin's most dependable drivers. "He would work seven days a week if we needed him, and we often did," Lumpkin says.

A fellow Nigerian native, Emokpae had no doubt that Omokaro would do well. A friend who worked at DART and lived at Omokaro's apartment complex in Irving introduced the two men, promising Emokpae that he would like Omokaro instantly.

"What she told me was not a fallacy. I hadn't seen anyone like him before -- in terms of his generosity, his enthusiasm, his versatility," Emokpae says. "He was very fun to be around, and he would help you out with ideas. He was always there for you. He was filled with a lot of exuberance. He celebrated life. When you saw Godwin, you saw life. You were encouraged."

Above all, he knew Omokaro was someone on whom he could depend. That was confirmed for him just a week after they first met. Omokaro had not been in Dallas long and was strapped for cash. He asked Emokpae if he could borrow $300 and promised to pay it back.

"He paid me back without me having to say anything," Emokpae says, still astonished at the memory. "That let me know this was someone I could trust. Ever since, we've been very tight friends."

After two years at DART, Omokaro felt established enough to revive his dream of attending college. He brought home forms from North Lake College, where he planned to study business and accounting. His father was ailing, and it was expected of the first born that he take on his father's responsibilities, so Omokaro dutifully sent money home regularly to help out.

Omokaro also wanted to start a family of his own, which became a subject of some contention between him and Courtney. After several years of trying to become pregnant, Courtney learned she could not have any more children. Their relationship grew strained, and eventually Courtney and her daughter moved out. But she and Omokaro remained close friends and continued to date.


When Omokaro asked Ava Bryant to help him celebrate his birthday, she readily agreed. Although she did not know the bus driver well, what she knew she liked. Ten years her senior, he was unfailingly polite, Bryant remembers, a real gentleman -- not the sort of man a 10th-grade dropout and single mother of four young girls meets every day.

The night Bryant first found herself on Omokaro's bus, she was headed back to South Dallas with her daughters after visiting her mother. Omokaro talked her into letting him drive her and her daughters home. He promised he wasn't going to do anything untoward. She eventually agreed, and they stayed on the bus with him until he finished his shift, then accompanied him back to the bus depot so he could retrieve his car.

As they got to know each other better over the next few weeks, they found that despite their age difference, they had a few things in common. Both of them were in relationships that had stalled, but from which they were having trouble making a clean break. Omokaro told Bryant about Ramona Courtney. Bryant was living with someone at the time, a bouncer at a local bar, but the relationship was "not going great," she says.

On his birthday, Omokaro rented a car and picked Bryant up for lunch at Wyatt's. They spent about an hour at his apartment, where he showed her a video of a party some friends had thrown him for his last birthday. She was wowed by his apartment, how immaculate and nicely furnished it was, with a large dining-room table, black leather sofa, and a "big old pretty fish tank."

She took Omokaro to meet her mother and sisters, then he took her home. They made plans to meet again later that night. Around 10 o'clock, Omokaro picked Bryant up and headed to GiGi's, a club on Park Lane, near Central Expressway. They danced for a while, and Omokaro had a shot of whiskey to celebrate his birthday. But Bryant was uncomfortable. She didn't drink, and the place was "too uppity" for her.

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