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County to hire lawyer for constable in civil rights lawsuit

Thursday, August 5, 2010 by Michelle Jimenez

Travis County Commissioners have lined up an attorney for Precinct 1 Deputy Constable Richard Furs, defendant in a civil suit filed last month alleging excessive use of force on a woman of Mexican descent.


The suit refers to the woman as Jane Doe and states that her name is being withheld because of the sexual humiliations she reportedly suffered during the May 2009 incident.


The suit claims that Furs “needlessly threw Ms. Doe, a grandmother, out of her vehicle, smashed her face on the ground, chipped her teeth, broke her glasses, clubbed her while she was handcuffed, and purposefully exposed her breast in front of onlookers, all while making racial slurs against her.”


The commissioners court on Tuesday authorized the County Attorney’s office to seek outside counsel for Furs, who is being sued individually. Travis County is not named as a defendant in the federal lawsuit, which was filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project on July 8 on behalf of “Jane Doe.”


Assistant County Attorney John Hille told In Fact Daily on Wednesday that the county had hired attorney Randy Leavitt to represent Furs. The court is scheduled to formally approve the hire next week.


Leavitt did not return a telephone call late Wednesday seeking comment about the allegations against his client, and a formal response to the lawsuit had not been filed in federal court. Furrs and Precinct 1 Constable Danny Thomas did not respond to telephone messages left at the precinct on Wednesday.


The alleged incident took place in front of an elementary school, where the woman arrived to pick up her two grandchildren. According to the suit, she was pulling into a parking space in front of the school, as she had done in the past, when Furs approached her and yelled at her to advance her truck and park in another space.


Furs then yelled at her to roll down her window and screamed questions at her, the lawsuit states. The woman, who speaks little English, asked him, in broken English, to call a Spanish-speaking officer.


“Instead, defendant Furs responded by calling Ms. Doe a wetback and yelled at her to speak English,” the suit claims.


The incident unfolded in front of a crowd outside the elementary school, including the woman’s grandchildren, the suit states.


Furs was suspended for five days without pay for misconduct, according to Wayne Krause, legal director for the Texas Civil Rights Project and the woman’s attorney. Krause added that Furs had received six months of probation at work.


The county could not confirm those actions on Wednesday.


“One of the really disturbing aspects of this is that he seemed to be motivated by his own prejudice,” Krause said. “This looks like a hate crime. He called her a ‘wetback.’ He said, ‘Speak English, go back to your country,’ and then proceeded to brutalize her and also assault her in a sexual way, as well. Those aspects make this particularly disturbing.”


The plaintiff in the lawsuit claims she suffered emotional trauma, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. She was taken to jail, though charges were later dropped, according to the lawsuit. She is seeking actual and punitive damages.

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