Courts

Protest Photographer Is Suing Dallas Police and City Over Injury Caused by 'Less-Lethal' Round

Protesters lie on their stomachs waiting to be detained by police after marching on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge June 1.
Protesters lie on their stomachs waiting to be detained by police after marching on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge June 1. Jacob Vaughn
When the protests reached Dallas in late May 2020, Vincent Doyle, a 23-year-old aspiring photojournalist, grabbed his camera and hopped in his car. He showed up to between 100 and 200 people chanting and kneeling near the Bank of America downtown.

A Minneapolis police officer had killed George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, only a few days earlier. Demonstrations against police brutality had erupted in cities the country over.

But not long after Doyle arrived, according to a lawsuit he filed against the city and Dallas police, "officers told the crowd to disperse and began indiscriminately firing tear gas at the crowd."

As Doyle loaded more film into his camera, he saw protesters who had been gassed by police pouring milk into their eyes to help ease the burning. He then made his way to a public parking lot “in compliance with police instructions to clear the streets,” according to court documents.

Then it happened. A sponge/rubber bullet crashed into the left side of Doyle’s face, smashing his cheekbone. Blood dripped from Doyle’s face onto the concrete beneath him as police continued firing projectiles.

Police at the scene, the lawsuit claims, tried to get Doyle to “incorrectly admit that he actually was hit with a brick by one of the other protesters.” But Doyle says that's not what happened.

The shot left Doyle with about 40% vision in his left eye, and the smashed cheekbone will likely require future surgeries.

Doyle's case is just one of several allegations of excessive force by police stemming from the protests that summer when activists were shot with rubber bullets, pepper balls, tear gas and other “less-lethal” munitions.

In the wake of the protests, DPD and the Dallas County District Attorney's office investigated allegations of excessive force. Lawsuits were filed. But until recently, no Dallas police officers had been hit with criminal charges over the protests.

“I’ve never seen anything like this." - Robert Rogers, attorney

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Last week, however, the DA’s office obtained an arrest warrant for a senior corporal with DPD who’s accused of shooting Doyle that day. Melvin Williams, the DPD officer, turned himself in on Monday on a misdemeanor count of assault.

Daryl Washington, the local civil rights attorney representing Doyle, told the Observer in September he felt protesters would only see justice through civil suits against the police and the city.

He hopes the recent warrant obtained for Williams is a sign that this is changing, but he’s not holding his breath.

“At the end of the day, the bottom line is it’s going to take officers coming forward and telling what happened,” Washington said. “We know the Dallas Police Department and people within the police department know what happened. What you’re seeing demonstrated at this particular time is officers protecting each other. We hope that blue wall comes down and officers do what they took an oath to do.”

But now, Washington said, officers are just defending each other.

Williams’ attorney, Robert Rogers, told The Dallas Morning News he felt the warrant was a political move by the DA’s office.

Last month, a grand jury declined to indict Williams over the incident with Doyle. Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot obtained the warrant for Williams’ arrest despite the grand jury decision, a move Rogers calls unprecedented.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Rogers told the News. He said he believes the warrant is in response to a Dallas Morning News story about Dallas officers not facing charges stemming from the George Floyd protests.

“The same grand jury heard from multiple witnesses and had access to all of the evidence in this matter and made the objective, well-informed decision not to charge Melvin Williams,” Rogers said. “That an elected DA would ignore that decision based on political gain and use his power to take away the freedom of an innocent man is chilling.”

Still, Washington isn’t buying it. He said that when it comes to Rogers defending his clients, "it's always been political."

"That seems to be the word that is used whenever an officer is on trial – that it’s political,” Washington said. “If there’s any politics that’s taking place, it’s going to be the politics of people protecting police officers.”

“These guys’ lives have been totally interrupted." – Daryl Washington, attorney

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He said he doesn’t know why the grand jury decided not to indict Williams. “What I do know is that you have two young men that have lost vision in their eyes and somebody needs to be held accountable for it," he added.

Washington also represents Brandon Saenz, a Dallas protester whom police shot and severely injured that summer. Saenz claims he was peacefully protesting when a less-lethal round struck his face. His face was fractured, several teeth were knocked out and he lost an eye as a result.

Williams is one of three Dallas police officers who were allegedly involved with he shot that partially blinded Saenz. Senior Cpl. Ryan Mabry and Officer Victor Rocha were the other two officers, according to the News. However, the officers’ specific involvement in the incident is still unclear.

Williams was also the subject of another recent arrest warrant, that one stemming from a Deep Ellum brawl in July. A video of the incident shows Dallas police officers, including Williams, trying to break up a street fight. The video shows Williams shoving a man and then punching him several times before two other officers intervene. Williams turned himself in last month for misdemeanor assault. With the department since 2006, Williams is now on administrative leave. Williams' attorney told the Observer they plan to fight the charges vigorously in court.

Asked for an update on his clients, Washington said Saenz and Doyle suffer from severe depression. “These guys’ lives have been totally interrupted," he explained. "They’re dealing with disfigurement. It’s not something you can put a piece of clothing over and forget for just a moment that it’s not there. This is something they see every single morning, every single night before they go to sleep.”

Washington added, “Brandon has a daughter. His daughter is frightened by the injury that her father has … It’s just awful.”
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn