Attorney detained in false-alarm bank robbery sues HPD

Jessica Willey Image
Friday, November 21, 2014
Attorney falsely detained for robbery sues HPD
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An attorney handcuffed outside his law office and accused in a robbery that turned out to be a false alarm claims he was racial profiled

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- A Houston attorney is suing the City of Houston and HPD after being handcuffed as a bank robbery suspect as he withdrew money at an ATM.

Dennis Spurling filed the lawsuit this week, alleging civil rights violations including racial profiling by Houston police officers.

The lawsuit stems from a November 14 incident. Two Houston police officers responded to an alarm inside the Chase Bank at 3003 South Loop West. Outside, they found Spurling, who is black. He had stopped at the ATM on the way out of the building where his law office is also located. He says he had his money in one hand and the ATM receipt in the other when he turned around to two men telling him to put his hands up.

"They were like ninjas coming out of the dark," Spurling told Eyewitness News.

The men then asked if he had a weapon on him. Spurling, who has a concealed handgun license told him he did. They took it, put him in handcuffs and had him sit on the ground.

"The situation was humiliating. It was insulting," Spurling said.

In his lawsuit filed in federal court, Spurling claims he was racially profiled and blames what happened on a lack of police training. He says the officers never identified themselves as police officers and didn't ask enough questions.

"My response would have been I was just going to the ATM machine and that's my name on the wall right there and I'm an attorney and I practice law here," Spurling explained.

He is suing the City of Houston, HPD, HPD Chief Charles McClelland and the two officers.

In response, City Attorney Dave Feldman sent this statement:

"We just saw this lawsuit for the first time this evening and we have to research the facts. From the face of the suit, however, it appears that the officers were responding to a bank alarm, at night, and plaintiff and his companion were the only persons at the scene when the officers arrived. There is nothing to indicate that the plaintiff was the victim of racial profiling."

As it turns out, the alarm was a false alarm. Spurling says the bank cleaning crew tripped it and the officers apologized profusely.

Spruling is suing for $4 million in both compensatory and punitive damages which he says he would donate to organizations that provide services to victims of racial profiling and wrongful arrest.