The Harker Heights Police Department on Tuesday strongly denied the accusations of police brutality made by the attorney for Leah Dure, who accused one of the department's officers of assaulting and wrongfully arresting his client in the early morning on Jan. 1 after a New Year's Eve party.
Social justice activist and lawyer Lee Merritt made a Facebook post claiming police brutality -- a post that has since been shared more than 11,400 times. But, according to law enforcement, Mr. Merritt's post is without merit.
Watch the entire press conference, which includes video from the scene below.
Harker Heights Police Chief Mike Gentry said his department's investigation has substantially proven Dure and Merritt's claims to be false. Instead, Gentry said, Dure was hurt during a fight involving her boyfriend, her boyfriend's wife and several other people.
According to Gentry's version of events, Dure and her boyfriend, identified as William Stewart III, were involved in that violent domestic dispute with the other individuals on Jan. 1 around 1:30 a.m. at a home on Transit Drive in Killeen. Killeen Police were dispatched and said they saw "extensive injuries" to Dure's face while at the scene. They claimed Dure was intoxicated and had "signs of fresh bruising around her eyes," according to Gentry.
Sometime around 5 a.m., Dure and Stewart ended up at Seton Medical Center in Harker Heights, where Stewart sought treatment for his own injuries. Police said Stewart left his vehicle running and parked blocking the emergency room's ambulance bay with Dure in the back seat.
A Killeen Police Officer, who was at Seton on an unrelated call, overheard Seton staff talking about the vehicle blocking ambulances. The Killeen Police Officer tried to speak with an apparently intoxicated Dure, who refused to exit the vehicle and instead mistakenly called him her boyfriend's name and asked him to have drinks with her, according to law enforcement.
At one point, she accused the Killeen Police Officer of injuring her, according to a Seton Security Officer who also came outside. But, none of the other evidence released Tuesday substantiated that claim. And, in fact, Dure's own comments captured on video later refute that statement.
Because Seton Medical Center is in Harker Heights, the Killeen Police Officer requested a Harker Heights Police Officer to respond, out of jurisdictional concerns. Harker Heights Police Officer Joshua Wood was the first to arrive and asked Dure several times to exit the vehicle -- something police said she refused to do. Officers then took her into custody.
Officer Wood's body camera "malfunctioned," according to the Harker Heights Police Department. According to Gentry, it was subsequently sent back to the manufacturer for analysis.
However, audio and video from the Harker Heights Police cruiser's dash camera and interior camera both indicate she was handcuffed and safely seated in the back of the patrol vehicle only seconds after police first removed her from her boyfriend's vehicle. And, the video shows the injuries to her face appear to be already present from what would seem to be a prior altercation.
In the video captured while Dure was in the back seat of the patrol vehicle, she became emotional and asked why she was being arrested.
"Dure is at one point seen banging her own head into the Patrol Unit Screen as she mumbles and talks to herself," Gentry said.
Dure can also be heard complaining about the tightness of the handcuffs. At that point, Officer Wood called for assistance and Harker Heights Police Officer L. Clark and Corporal William Greenwood showed up to speak with Dure and offer her medical attention. Dure can be seen and heard declining medical attention for her swollen eye, which she said -- on camera -- had nothing to do with her arrest and was instead "because of her," which appeared to be in reference to the earlier altercation she and her boyfriend had with the boyfriend's wife.
Despite Dure's disinterest in medical attention, Greenwood asked a doctor to come outside anyway and look at Dure while she was in the back of the police cruiser. But, the doctor did not see any injuries substantial enough to warrant immediate medical attention, according to the exchange in the video.
Further surveillance video from inside the Harker Heights Police Department's holding facility does not show violence against Dure. The overhead video shows that at one point, while Officer Wood tries to photograph Dure, she reaches toward his body camera. He responds by pressing her against the wall and instructing her not to touch him. But, her head never appears to hit the wall nor does she appear to be injured during that brief incident.
An audio recording of a phone call was also damaging to Dure and her attorney's version of events. The Harker Heights Police Department released the recording, in which boyfriend William Stewart III can be heard calling his wife and asking her to deny that Dure was hurt during the fight in Killeen.
Harker Heights Police said Dure was lawfully arrested for public intoxication and the evidence all supports that she was already injured when police made contact with her.
Officer Wood was described as having retired honorably from the U.S. Army after "extensive experience" in the Army Military Police Corps. He was hired by the Harker Heights Police Department in January 2016.
After the press conference Tuesday, Officer Wood's lawyer fired back at Dure's lawyer for publicly accusing Wood of police brutality that the evidence now suggests never happened.
"As Officer Wood's attorney, on behalf of the Texas Municipal Police Association, I am respectfully requesting that you issue a full retraction of your false assertions on Facebook immediately or face a lawsuit for defamation per se," Georgetown-based Attorney Robert McCabe wrote on Facebook.
In a phone call with KCEN-TV Tuesday evening, McCabe said claims like the ones Merritt made about his client "waters down those cases" where people really do need justice if they are actually abused by law enforcement.
"People like Lee Merritt...he's just a race baiter. That's what he is," McCabe said.
Merritt posted a response to the Harker Heights Police Department's press conference Tuesday night. Watch the full Facebook live below:
To view the affidavit, click here: