Police launch internal investigation into arrest that left Lawrence skateboarder with fractured elbow

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Lawrence resident Duc Tran is pictured Wednesday, July 3, 2019, in downtown Lawrence. Tran says his left elbow was fractured when a Lawrence police officer arrested him in June 2019.

Lawrence resident and avid skateboarder Duc Tran says he’s had plenty of friendly interactions with local police over the years.

But after being accused of assaulting an officer with his skateboard and then having his elbow fractured and shoulders dislocated during a rough arrest last weekend, Tran, 43, says he’s planning a formal complaint.

Lawrence police said Wednesday they’ve actually already launched their own internal investigation into the incident, after becoming aware of the situation through a social media post by Tran.

“We take these things very seriously, and we hold our officers to the highest standards,” Sgt. Amy Rhoads said. “Our office of professional accountability is looking into it … we took it upon ourselves to open an internal investigation into the matter.”

Tran was arrested late Saturday night near Seventh and New Hampshire streets in downtown Lawrence. He was booked into jail on suspicion of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer with a deadly weapon, a felony, as well as interference with law enforcement.

Tran was released from jail Monday afternoon without being charged.

The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office is awaiting further reports to review, said Cheryl Wright Kunard, assistant to the DA.

The incident happened shortly before 11 p.m. Saturday, when a Lawrence police officer stopped a man he saw skateboarding in the street, Officer Shawn Gross told the Journal-World via email.

Skateboarding is prohibited in roadways under the Standard Traffic Ordinance adopted by most Kansas cities, including Lawrence, city communications director Porter Arneill said. Lawrence code also prohibits skateboarding on sidewalks and parking zones in the pedestrian-dense downtown area.

The stopped skateboarder was “argumentative, refused to provide identification, and attempted several times to walk away,” Gross said, based on a report by the arresting officer. During the course of the stop, Gross said the man “shouted at and approached the officer with a skateboard raised overhead in a manner which led the officer to believe the subject was about to inflict immediate bodily harm upon the officer.”

When the officer told him to put down the skateboard, the man complied but began to walk away again, Gross said. He said the officer then attempted to arrest the man for “the assaultive behavior” and that the man resisted. Additional officers were called to assist, and the man was eventually arrested and taken to jail.

Gross said that no injuries were reported from the incident and that the man was suspected of being under the influence of alcohol.

That’s not true, Tran told the Journal-World.

Tran said he wasn’t intoxicated at the time of his arrest. He also said that as he was face down on the pavement, the officer, Brad Williams, twisted his left arm from behind his back all the way up over his head and seemed to twist it more the more he pleaded for him not to.

“Literally, I was screaming, ‘My arm is broken,'” Tran said.

Tran said that after he was handcuffed he yelled again that his arm was broken as he was being taken to a police car.

Tran said he was skateboarding south on New Hampshire with a friend when the officer yelled out his window for him to stop. Tran said he got off his skateboard and, carrying the board, walked half a block back to the officer.

Tran admitted to protesting being detained, asking why he was being stopped and saying he’d been let off the hook before for skateboarding in the street. He said he did not give the officer his identification because he thought he didn’t have it on him, though he said he realized later as he was booked into jail that it was in one of his pockets.

Tran denied ever lifting up his skateboard or threatening the officer with it. He said he put it down in the grass as soon as he was asked to.

“I don’t think I did anything wrong,” Tran said. “Never once was I aggressive with my skateboard.”

Tran said that after Williams took him to the ground to arrest him, three more officers arrived and physically assisted Williams. He said more officers were standing nearby.

Tran said he thought he saw some bystanders taking video on their phones, but he has not seen any video of the arrest.

At the jail, Tran said he told a nurse practitioner that his arm was injured but that she said he did not need treatment, and he stayed in his cell for the rest of the night.

He said he asked to see another nurse practitioner when she came in the next morning. She recommended that he go to the hospital for X-rays. He was taken there midmorning Sunday and was diagnosed with a fractured elbow. He had it splinted and wrapped at the hospital and was then sent back to the jail.

In addition to large scrapes on his shoulder and leg, Tran said both his shoulders were dislocated during the arrest. He said he was at least partially successful in popping them back into place himself.

photo by: Contributed photo

Lawrence resident Duc Tran shows one injury he says was caused by a Lawrence police officer, Saturday, June 29, 2019.

photo by: Contributed photo

Lawrence resident Duc Tran shows one injury he says was caused by a Lawrence police officer, Saturday, June 29, 2019.

Sgt. Kristen Channel of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said she couldn’t comment on a specific inmate’s medical information but said that jail staff followed its policies in Tran’s case.

“The Sheriff’s Office has specific protocols, policies and medical staff in place to assess (people’s) health, safety and well-being upon their arrival to and while they are in custody at the Douglas County Correctional Facility,” Channel said in an email.

The officer who stopped and arrested Tran, Williams, has been with the Lawrence Police Department just over two years, Rhoads said.

As of Wednesday, his status had not changed and he was still on duty, she said.

Asked whether the officer had been the subject of complaints or disciplinary action in the past, Rhoads said that was a personnel matter she was not able to discuss.

Rhoads also declined to comment further on the specifics of Tran’s arrest.

Speaking generally, she said it’s protocol to offer medical treatment when someone is injured during an incident. Sometimes medics are called to the scene to check the person out, or the person may be taken to the hospital in more serious cases.

“Anytime that we see that somebody’s injured or they verbally tell us that they’re injured, we will offer them medical treatment,” Rhoads said.

On Wednesday, Tran had a form to make a formal complaint but hadn’t filled it out yet. He said he’s trying to find an attorney to help him.

Tran said he’s been living in or near Lawrence — and has been part of the local restaurant and music community — for close to 20 years. He said he’s currently a server at Jimmy’s Egg and living “table to table” with no health insurance. He’s also in a couple of local bands, but for now he can’t play his guitar or other instruments.

Even though his arm dressing is falling off, he said he hasn’t gone to the doctor for a follow-up as recommended by the hospital because he can’t pay for it.

He said he’s been frustrated and depressed about the situation, but got emotional talking about the outpouring of support he’s gotten after his Facebook post about the situation was shared hundreds of times.

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd


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