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 were like a pile of ants on a piece of candy," Bryant says. "When they were done, he was just lying there, face-down on the ground, not saying anything. I said, 'What did you do him? Why isn't he moving?' The officer who sprayed the Mace said he probably wasn't moving because he was tied up."

Omokaro says he lost consciousness shortly after the officers piled on top of him. The officers claim he was still awake when they carried him to the police car, where they lay him face-down across the back seat, with his head supposedly hanging off the seat's edge so he could breathe.

A few minutes later, Sgt. Dean Sorenson arrived, and the officers told him what happened. He checked on Omokaro and saw a gash on his forehead. When he rolled Omokaro over, his saw that his tongue was blue and swollen. Officers pulled Omokaro out of the car, and Sorenson checked his vital signs. He found no pulse and called for an ambulance.

Sorenson began chest compressions, and when that didn't restore Omokaro's breathing, he radioed for a CPR mask to begin the breathing portion of the resuscitation. Within six minutes, the ambulance arrived. With the paramedics' help, Omokaro began to breathe, albeit it shallowly, on his own. The ambulance rushed him to Parkland Hospital, where he remained unconscious for two weeks. He awoke a different man, an invalid who could not see and who had to learn to walk and talk all over again.

"What they did to that poor man," Bryant says, shaking her head. "Godwin was a good person, and for that to happen to a good person just isn't right. It was so frightening to me. I had seen things like that happen on TV, but never in person."


Although Ramona Courtney was initially upset when she learned Omokaro was on a date with another woman on his birthday, she stayed by his side throughout his long ordeal. His friend Kingsley Emokpae, among others, has been there for him as well.

The night after the incident, Emokpae and fellow DART bus drivers, as well as members of the Nigerian community, marched in Dallas to protest the way the police had treated Omokaro.

"To me it is still a mystery what happened that night to my friend," Emokpae says. "I tend to think of it as an illusion. It doesn't seem real that something like this could happen to Godwin. He didn't deserve it. Violent is the last word in the dictionary to describe him. I had never even seen him engage in an argument with a friend."

Courtney insists that Omokaro was not normally fearful of the police. "He had a good relationship with them when he was a security guard," she says. "And Godwin knew the system."

How did something that started out so seemingly benign -- a simple ticket for a curfew violation -- spin so utterly out of control? For his part, Omokaro says he did nothing wrong. He says he called 9-1-1 because he felt threatened, a feeling the police only confirmed when they pulled on his neck to get him off the phone, then sprayed his face with pepper spray and put him in a chokehold.

The police, meanwhile, insist they were justified in using escalating force because Omokaro violently resisted arrest. But from the officers' own statements, it's hard to tell exactly what Omokaro was being arrested for to begin with.

The police conducted an internal investigation into whether the officers had used excessive force against Omokaro. There are discrepancies in the officers' accounts of what happened. Hensley claims he attempted to get Omokaro, whom he described as "wild-eyed," to sign the ticket while he was on the phone, but there is no indication on the 9-1-1 transcript that this occurred. In an affidavit given to police investigators, Hensley first said that he attempted to arrest Omokaro while he was on the phone -- for what, it isn't clear -- and that Omokaro kicked him. But in a later affidavit, Hensley says he didn't intend to arrest Omokaro until he kicked the officer when he tried to remove the phone from Omokaro's hand. Hensley said he then told Omokaro he was under arrest -- also not evident on the transcript. Hensley admitted to a police investigator several hours after the incident that he could not find a bruise on his shin where he was allegedly kicked.

In Whitemyer's statements, he claims Omokaro kicked Hensley when he tried to take the phone and then the officer told him he was under arrest. He also claims he then attempted to calm Omokaro down by telling him the whole thing was silly, and when he wouldn't settle down he felt compelled to spray him with pepper spray. Again, none of the officers' alleged attempts to defuse the situation, nor the officer's informing Omokaro he was under arrest, appears on the transcript.

Whitemyer also maintains that Omokaro was still conscious in the police car, because he claims that he asked him three different times whether he would release the rental car to Bryant and that Omokaro nodded his head in response twice.

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