Two white Winston-Salem police officers deny in court papers filed Tuesday that they targeted and then assaulted a Black man, yanking him out of a car and beating him. A lawsuit filed by the man’s attorneys said the assault happened during a traffic stop off Country Club Road last year.
James R. Morgan Jr., an attorney for the officers, filed a written response to a federal lawsuit filed in June.
Attorneys for Destiny Raye Thompson, 39, of North Wilkesboro, filed the lawsuit June 8 in the Middle District of North Carolina, which includes Forsyth County. The lawsuit named Winston-Salem police officers Joseph F. Bross and Phillip Yates as defendants. The officers are currently active and there is no record that they have been demoted.
In court papers, Morgan alleges that Thompson had exceeded the speeding limit and had driven over a mile in his car along Old Vineyard Road, Kilpatrick Street and Country Club Road. Morgan said Bross and Yates did follow Thompson’s car and did not immediately activate their patrol car’s blue lights.
Morgan’s response does not go into details about what exactly prompted the traffic stop. The officers are claiming qualified immunity, which typically protects law-enforcement officers from personal liability when they are doing their jobs. They also claim any other kind of immunity that they may qualify for, including governmental immunity and sovereign immunity, according to Morgan’s response.
“Any force used by officers against the Plaintiff was reasonable under the circumstances and was therefore justified under the circumstances,” Morgan said in court papers. “The use of reasonable force and the Plaintiff’s wrongful conduct are hereby pled in bar of any recovery by Plaintiff.”
Morgan does not describe in court papers what he alleges Thompson’s “wrongful conduct” to be.
According to the lawsuit, Thompson left an apartment complex on Old Vineyard Road on May 14, 2020, took a left on Kilpatrick Street and then a right onto Country Club Road. The lawsuit said Thompson noticed an unmarked police car with two white officers following him. Yates and Bross were in the police car.
Thompson alleged in the lawsuit that he became nervous because he was being followed and because he was aware of “numerous public instances of police violence against minorities like himself publicized in the media.”
This incident took place two weeks before George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. Floyd, a Black man, died after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. Chauvin was convicted earlier this year in Floyd’s death and sentenced to 22½ years in prison.
The lawsuit said that Thompson turned onto Lindbergh Street, a dead-end road between Kilpatrick Street and South Fork Elementary School, wanting to see if the police officers would still follow him. When he turned onto that road, the officers turned their blue lights on and Thompson pulled over.
The lawsuit said Thompson was not driving dangerously or recklessly and did not have any weapons. When Bross approached the driver’s side door, Thompson pulled out his cellphone to either record it or have it handy in case he needed to call someone, the lawsuit alleged.
Then Bross asked Thompson to get out of the car, and Yates was on the passenger side door. The lawsuit said when Yates saw Thompson with the cellphone, Yates started yelling at Thompson to hand over the phone. At the same time, Bross started yelling at Thompson to give him the phone and telling him to get out of the car.
Then, according to the lawsuit, Bross opened the door and yanked Thompson out of the car, pulling Yates through the car. The lawsuit alleged that Thompson was slammed to the ground, landing on his jaw. His hand holding the cellphone was pinned underneath, the lawsuit said.
Bross got on Thompson’s back, kneeling on his head and demanding to see the hand with the phone in it, the lawsuit said. Thompson offered up his free hand and one of the officers said, “You’re not in charge.”
The lawsuit alleged that Bross and Yates beat Thompson in the chest and ribs, kneeled on his back and struck his neck. They also twisted his free arm, and Thompson was yelling for help and saying he was being beaten. The officers “mocked Thompson saying, ‘there’s no one here man,’ ‘you don’t have an audience,’ and words to that effect,” the lawsuit said.
Thompson had serious injuries to his face, jaw, hand, finger and foot, the lawsuit said. He also had fractured or broken bones in his foot and permanent nerve damage to Thompson’s fingers, hand and wrists, according to the lawsuit.
Thompson is facing several charges, including resisting a public officer, possession of marijuana and other drug-related offenses. Arrest warrants allege that Thompson pulled away from Bross and failed to comply with verbal commands.
The lawsuit said the body-camera footage later recorded the officers saying they had been watching Thompson and that they had noticed he was driving two rental cars earlier in the week. Before the traffic stop, the officers were heard in the body-camera footage that they intended to stop Thompson because he had turned onto a dead-end street.
Body-camera footage is not public record and can only be released through a court order by a Superior Court judge.