Suit: APD cop breaks man’s ankle, calls him ‘little girl’ for hurting

Minutes into his April 2019 encounter with Atlanta Police Department officers, Tyler Griffin lay on the ground in pain, his ankle broken. Officer Donald Vickers, seen on video tackling Griffin moments earlier, and two other officers can be heard laughing as Griffin tries to walk.

“It hurts! It hurts!” Griffin wails.

“You sound like a little girl right now,” Vickers tells the wounded man.

Griffin filed suit Monday accusing officers of brutalizing him and trying to cover up their actions in the incident, captured on police body camera video viewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, comes days after an Atlanta police officer fatally shot and Rayshard Brooks outside a Wendy's near downtown. The death of Brooks, like those of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and George Floyd in Minneapolis, have led to a nationwide protest movement. The Wendy's, set ablaze Saturday night, stands in ruins. Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields has stepped aside.

"I grew up trusting the police and believing that if you cooperated with officers, everything would be okay," Griffin, who is black, said in a statement through his attorneys at the Butler Law Firm. Griffin said he hopes the public will respond to his story by peacefully calling for change.

“What happened to me is not acceptable, and this story has to be told,” he said.

His suit names the police department, Vickers and Officer Matthew Abad, who state records indicate still work for APD. The police department didn’t respond to a request for comment. Vickers and Abad had no immediate comment when reached by phone Monday. Both are white. A third officer who responded to the April 2019 call, also heard laughing in the body camera footage, is black.

Tyler Griffin

icon to expand image

Griffin says in court documents that an unmarked car followed him around the Westside in the middle of the night. Officers would later say they witnessed multiple traffic violations. Griffin almost hit their car and drove on the wrong side of the road, according to the police report. The officers didn’t turn on their lights while following Griffin, which caused him to fear he was being pursued by carjackers, the suit says.

Griffin turned into a private driveway to see if the car would follow, the suit said. Soon a flashlight shown in Griffin’s face. Abad pointed a gun at the car and screamed, identifying himself as an Atlanta police officer, and ordered Griffin from the car.

The video shows Griffin climbing out of the car. As Griffin stood by the side of the vehicle, Abad touched his right shoulder, prompting Griffin to brush the cop’s hand away. The officer and Griffin talked peacefully as Vickers, who was farther up the driveway, broke into a sprint toward Griffin.

Griffin turned at the last second to see Vickers crash into him, the video footage shows. The tackle broke his ankle, according to the suit.

Court documents include X-ray images showing an ankle repaired by surgical screws and a metal plate. Griffin had emergency surgery, which involved a doctor slicing his skin from ankle to the arch of his foot to install permanent hardware designed to hold his broken bones together.

“Oh God. Oh my God. Help me please,” Griffin said on the scene. “Take the pain away!”

The officers instructed Griffin to walk and laughed even as he shrieked in pain, the video shows. Vickers bragged about the “skid marks” his tackle left on the ground.

“We’re laughing because you fell pretty hard after pushing an officer, man. I find that funny,” Vickers told Griffin.

Jeb Butler, who represents Griffin with co-counsel Matt Kahn, said “the coverup started almost immediately,” with Vickers’ claim that Griffin “pushed” an officer.

“Mr. Griffin didn’t push any officer,” Butler said.

In the emergency room, another officer told medical personnel that Griffin must’ve injured his ankle when he drove over an uneven part of the private driveway, according to the suit. The officer, whose words are captured on his body camera, said he hadn’t seen the injury but had been told about it when he was asked to take Griffin to the hospital.

Police charged Griffin, who they said smelled of alcohol, with DUI and various traffic violations. Vickers and Abad decided against performing any sobriety tests to prove Griffin was intoxicated, according to the suit. Abad said on the video that it wasn’t necessary because Griffin “stinks like alcohol” and “can’t drive.” Those charges are pending.

After the injury, Griffin dealt with tremendous pain, missed work and had to undergo physical therapy, his attorneys said. Today, he still sometimes limps and has pain. The suit asks for a jury to decide how much Griffin is owed.

The suit points out that Vickers was cited in 2010 for reckless conduct after he allegedly approached three black men with a semi-automatic assault rifle, chambered a round, and pointed the rifle at the men as they were being escorted from Underground Atlanta, according to a police report.

Vickers, who has been with APD for 14 years, was suspended for a few days after that, the suit says. Abad has been with APD since April 2016, according to the Peace Officers Standards Counsel. Neither officer has a disciplinary record with POST, which certifies officers in Georgia.

Griffin’s attorneys say their actions in this case were clearly wrong and dangerous.

“It’s real clear that change is long overdue in this city and elsewhere,” Butler said. “Tyler wasn’t the first victim in a police attack like this, and we already know he wasn’t the last.”

Data specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed reporting.