A former Houston police officer accused of assaulting a fleeing, handcuffed man — and who was seen in a video yelling for another officer to “shoot his a--” — has been indicted on aggravated assault charges, authorities said.
Lucas Vieira faces a first-degree felony charge, which carries a possible prison term of 99, in an incident that began with a traffic violation on July 7, 2019. The man who was allegedly assaulted, Aundre Howard, 34, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging excessive force in April.
In a statement Sunday on Twitter, the Houston Police Department said that a new chief, Troy Finner, placed Vieria, 31, on indefinite suspension April 16 after taking over the department’s top position.
KPRC reported that a Houston police spokesperson said that Vieira “is no longer an HPD employee” and that he is appealing the decision.
“We respect the grand jury’s decision,” the department said. “This case is now in the hands of the courts.”
According to the lawsuit, the incident occurred after Howard, 34, was driving with an expired registration in Houston. Vieria ordered Howard out of his car and handcuffed him, the suit says, adding that he complied and no weapons were found but was still placed in a squad car.
Before a second officer could perform what the suit described as a body cavity search, Howard fled.
“He grew frightened of the officers,” Kallinen said in an interview. “That’s why he took off running.”
An account of the incident provided by Vieria’s lawyer, James Siscoe, said that the officers detained Howard after they saw marijuana in his car.
After Howard darted across a freeway service road, the officers were nearly struck by oncoming traffic, according to Siscoe's account. When they caught up with him, the account says, the officers “struggled to keep Howard from pulling both of them into freeway traffic.”
In brief body camera video released by Kallinen, Vieria can be seen chasing Howard while shouting: “Shoot his a--” to a second officer, Thomas Serrano. After Serrano detained Howard, Vieria can be seen striking Howard in the head.
According to the suit, Vieria used his handcuffs like brass knuckles, hitting him at least three times.
The suit says Howard was so terrified, he defecated. It also alleged that Vieria, Serrano and a third officer pulled Howard’s pants down and made fun of him.
According to Vieria’s lawyer, the officer struck Howard in the “shoulder area” three times and once in the head. The account added that Lucas, who sprained his ankle, “probably saved both Howard’s life and possibly that of other motorists.”
Howard was initially charged with evading arrest and possession of more than 4 grams of cocaine, though those charges were later dismissed, Houston Public Media reported.
Efforts to reach Serrano were unsuccessful Monday. A lawyer for the city of Houston, which is also named in the suit, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Online court records show that the former officer was released from jail on $10,000 bond.
Kallinen said Howard felt “safer” after the indictment was announced.
“It shows the authorities — the district attorney’s office — will take these kinds of cases seriously, and that the officer will have to suffer the consequences if a jury finds him guilty,” Kallinen said.