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Full story: ACLU sues Worthington Police Department

Worthington resident Anthony Promvongsa is pictured. (Karl Evers-Hillstrom / The Globe)

Editor's note: This story replaces the original press release issued by the ACLU.

WORTHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Worthington Police Department, Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force and city of Worthington, along with individual officers involved in a July 2016 traffic stop in which Worthington resident Anthony Promvongsa was assaulted by Task Force Agent Joe Joswiak while WPD Sgt. Tim Gaul stood by. 

The suit alleges the city and its police department did not enforce their excessive force policies, did not properly document incidents of force, did not properly investigate allegations of excessive force and generally engaged "in a policy, pattern of practice, or custom of failing to reprimand or discipline any officer for excessive force."

Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle responded Wednesday to those allegations.

"We have commissioned an independent investigation and report and it is due in the next two weeks," he said. "I think it’s very unfortunate that the ACLU has chosen to file a lawsuit ahead of the city being able to review the independent investigation and giving the city a chance to respond to that report.

"The city of Worthington and the police department does have a use of force policy and it is taken seriously," Kuhle added.

The incident was recorded by Gaul's dashcam. Footage, which depicts Joswiak pulling a gun on Promvongsa before punching and kneeing him, was obtained by the ACLU and released in June. 

In August, Promvongsa pleaded guilty to fifth-degree assault with intent to cause fear and driving after revocation, admitting he drove recklessly by driving in close proximity to a police officer. That officer, according to a police report, called dispatch to report the reckless driving. That's when Joswiak began looking for Promvongsa, and eventually pulled him over. 

ACLU Attorney Ian Bratlie said Joswiak and Gaul weren't involved with the original incident, as charges alleging Promvongsa swerved his car at Joswiak were dropped during his plea agreement. 

"Regardless, if you're alleging the police can beat up anybody for traffic violations, you're nuts," Bratlie said. "People should not be attacked for traffic violations, and there's certainly no reason for anybody to think the police had any authority to do what they did — they didn't. There's no justifying Officer Joswiak's actions."

Bratlie said Gaul had been charged on prior occasions with excessive force. Based on conversations with officials and community members, Bratlie added, Joswiak's history of excessive force "wasn't exactly a secret."

In a phone interview Wednesday, Promvongsa said he had his hands up and seatbelt on when Joswiak approached his vehicle. Joswiak then pulled the door open and delivered several knee strikes and a punch to the unarmed Promvongsa.

"I was scared for my life," Promvongsa said. "I've never been that scared, ever."

Promvongsa also alleges he was seriously hurt, and officers didn't treat him properly when he was arrested and transported to the Nobles County Jail. 

"I had several bruises by my eye and my arms," Promvongsa said. "My neck was in serious pain, too. I told them my neck was hurting when we were in the car, but [Gaul] just kept asking questions."

The suit alleges five counts, including negligence, assault, excessive force and violation of the Fourth Amendment — adding up to damages in excess of $500,000. It says Gaul should have intervened in the incident, and alleges the city did not make a serious attempt at investigating the incident until it was forced to.

"We're essentially asking them to compensate Anthony for the harm he's suffered as well as make concrete steps so the actions and abuses we've heard about and read about and in this case, caught on film, stop happening," Bratlie said. 

The case has been filed in U.S. District Court of Minnesota. Joswiak, Gaul, Officer Dan Brouillet, Police Chief Troy Appel and Sgt. Nate Grimmius are listed as defendants in their individual and official capacity.

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