Amarillo, TX - A local defense attorney claims a marijuana possession case that went to court Tuesday is part of a much bigger picture involving alleged police brutality in Amarillo.
Robert Johnson, 21, said he was beaten by police while riding his bicycle on March 28 down 24th Street and then charged with possession of marijuana that was not his. Dashcam video shows police pushing Johnson to the ground.
Reverend Herman Moore, a witness to the arrest, said police then proceeded to beat him. "That is no way to arrest a person," said Moore. "It was uncalled for. It did not have to go as far as it did that night. We shouldn't have to be here, but we're here because we don't want it to happen again."
Nearly 40 people packed the Potter County Court House Tuesday morning to support the 21-year-old. The incident also sparked the formation of a group called Amarillo Citizens for Open Government, led by Johnson's defense team.
"Robert Johnson's case is a symptom of a much bigger disease. This cop abuse happens everyday," said Ryan Brown, Johnson's defense attorney.
Tuesday's pre-trial hearing did not address how Johnson was arrested but the drug charge he received.
Johnson's fingerprints were not found on the two marijuana bags police reportedly found that night, so the defense asked the judge to grant a motion to run DNA tests on the bags.
"The judge ordered the county to pay for touch DNA testing on those marijuana bags, which is a major victory," said Brown. "Those results are not going to come back in the state's favor."
However, there is a catch. Legal documents describe Johnson as "intellectually disabled" with an IQ of 52. Because of that, the prosecution asked for a mental evaluation of Johnson. They do not believe he is intellectually competent to stand trial.
"If an independent expert tells us that is so, we do not want to prosecute Mr. Johnson," said Wade Overstreet, the Assistant Potter County Attorney. "Despite what has been suggested by others, we're not on a crusade against Johnson. We're not trying to punish him for anything. We're trying to simply see that justice is done. We will handle this case just like any other possession of marijuana case."
The judge determined a mental evaluation of Johnson must be completed before DNA tests can be ordered. If the evaluation shows Johnson's mentality is of a child 15 years or younger, the prosecution plans to dismiss the case.
"They can dismiss this case but they cannot hide the truth," said Brown. "They do not want to see this DNA testing. They are trying to slap down this movement that we have going with the Amarillo Citizens for Open Government. All we're asking for is open government, police accountability and citizens oversight of the police. They don't want that. They are scared of that just like they are scared of this DNA testing."
The prosecution disagrees. "It seems like the defense team is trying to contrive a narrative that the dope was planted on Mr. Johnson," said Overstreet. "This office has no information to that effect whatsoever but we believe that might be a part of their defense argument should it go to trial."
The defense team said they are working with the Amarillo Police Department on their internal investigation of the night's events.