Austin motorcyclist sues officers for taking photos of his tattoos

An Austin motorcyclist is suing three police officers who he says forced him to lift his shirt and bare his skin during a traffic stop this month so they could photograph his tattoos.

Kristopher Cody King, 34, says his civil rights were violated Dec. 13 when police pulled him over on Koenig Lane for failing to signal a turn on his motorcycle. King, who was not cited in the incident, says the officers told him to consent to the photos or they would take him to jail and take them there.

The suit, filed Thursday in federal court by attorney Millie Thompson, lists officer Dane O’Neill and two other officers as defendants. O’Neill, according to the lawsuit, peppered King with questions about patches on his vest and his biker affiliations. The other officers were not identified in the lawsuit because their identities were unknown.

The lawsuit does not specify how much money King wants, but says he suffers from mental anguish and has lost sleep over the incident. “King has been fearful to ride through Austin, afraid that he will be pulled over for no reason by the police, according to the suit. “King has relived the emotional turmoil the incident created, each time he tells a friend or family member about what happened to him on December 13th. He has lost sleep. He is afraid to stay at his home, knowing that the same officers who had no regard for his rights know where he lives.”

Video that King took on his cell phone shows an officer photographing his arm and ordering him to unzip his vest and expose his back. King, a member of the Escondido biker club, tells the men, “This is a little humiliating, don’t you think?” A construction crew watched nearby, the suit states. King was told he could not call an attorney, according to the document.

A police spokeswoman said late Thursday afternoon that she could not comment on the lawsuit because she had not seen it.

David Devereaux, of the Motorcycle Profiling Project, says police mistreatment of bikers is common across the country.

“Many in law enforcement decide to take actions based on appearance and a bikers-are-bad stereotype, as opposed to behavior,” Devereaux said. “Most of these incidents go unnoticed because they are not documented or videoed. Many motorcyclists fail to follow up on when released without a citation. The actions of APD officers in this instance are deplorable. It is a clear 4th Amendment violation to extend a traffic stop for the purpose of taking pictures without Cody’s consent or independent reasonable suspicion of another crime justifying an extended investigation.”

Behavior of Austin police officers has been at the center of two court cases this month.

Last week, a Travis County jury found a man not guilty of attempted murder after officer Matthew Murphy gave conflicting testimony as to whether Andrew Jones pointed a gun at him following a high-speed chase in 2014.

On Dec. 1, a federal jury cleared two officers in an excessive force lawsuit brought to them by a woman who said she was injured during a blood draw.

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Ryan Autullo
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