Harker Heights, TX – An alleged police brutality case was dropped early Wednesday, after an internal investigation found that a woman and her married boyfriend fabricated claims that she had been assaulted by a police officer during her Jan. 1 arrest (video below).
The allegations against Harker Heights Police Department (HHPD) Officer Jay Wood were broadcast on social media, after civil rights attorney Lee Merritt made a Facebook post and perpetuated Leah Dure’s claim that Officer Wood dragged from a car, banged her face into the concrete, and accused her of driving while drunk, KWTX reported.
“Harker Heights Police Department Officer Wood must be fired and criminally charged immediately,” Merritt’s now-deleted Jan. 5 post read.
Merritt claimed that Dure had ridden to a local hospital with her boyfriend, William Stewart, after his eye was injured at a New Year’s Eve party. The attorney said his client fell asleep in the passenger seat of Stewart’s vehicle while he went into the emergency room.
“She woke up to a white male officer dragging her from the car and banging her face into the concrete while accusing her of DUI,” Merritt wrote. “She was taken to jail and was further physically assaulted by the officer … as she tried to explain she was not driving.”
Merritt said that Dure was ultimately “mis-charged with public intoxication in a bizarre attempt to justify her unlawful arrest.”
An internal affairs investigation, which included lots of video footage, showed all the allegations of police brutality were untrue.
HHPD Chief Mike Gentry addressed Dure’s false allegations during a Tuesday press conference, complete with security camera, bodycam, and patrol car footage.
“The Harker Heights Police Department is releasing certain facts in order to correct any misinformation or falsehoods that are currently being represented in various forms of social media,” Chief Gentry said.
“The investigation has substantially proven her claim to be false,” he said.
Investigators learned that on Jan. 1, at approximately 1:30 a.m., Dure was involved in a “domestic dispute” with her married boyfriend, his wife, and several other individuals at a residence in Killeen.
Officers with the Killeen Police Department (KPD) were called to the altercation.
“Killeen Police officers on that scene recognized, at that time, extensive injuries to her face,” Chief Gentry said. “They also noted that Dure was intoxicated, and had signs of fresh bruising around her eyes.”
About three hours later, at approximately 5 a.m., Stewart went into the emergency room in Harker Heights to seek treatment for his own injuries.
“He left his vehicle running and parked in the ambulance bay, blocking ambulance access, with an intoxicated Dure in the back seat,” Chief Gentry explained.
A Killeen police officer was at the hospital on an unrelated matter, and overheard medical staff as they discussed Stewart’s vehicle.
The chief said the Killeen officer attempted to make contact with Dure inside the vehicle, and noticed then that her left eye was severely swollen, but she was uncooperative to his attempts to speak with her.
“She refused to exit the vehicle, and mistakenly called the Killeen officer ‘William’… asking to have drinks with him,” Chief Gentry said.
A hospital security officer said that at one point, Dure accused the Killeen officer of assaulting her, Chief Gentry noted.
Because the hospital was located outside of the Killeen officer’s jurisdiction, HHPD was contacted to assist with Dure.
Officer Joshua Wood was the first member of the HHPD to arrive on the scene.
He immediately noticed Dure’s injuries, which included a “severely swollen eye and bite marks to her face,” Chief Gentry said.
Dure continued to refuse to exit the vehicle. When Officer Wood attempted to remove her, Dure slid across the seat away from him, and was ultimately taken out of the car by the Killeen officer.
She was then placed in the back of Officer Wood’s patrol car.
Due to the position of the vehicles, the dashcam recording did not capture Dure as she was removed from the back of Stewart’s car.
Officer Wood’s bodycam was activated, but malfunctioned, and has been sent back to the manufacturer, Chief Gentry said.
“However, the audio on the dashboard camera is clear, and it shows that only seconds after being handcuffed, she is safely seated in the HHPD patrol unit,” Chief Gentry said.
The car’s internal camera recorded Dure as she sat in the back seat.
“Dure is emotional, crying, and continually asking why she is being arrested,” the chief said. “Apparently under the assumption that the arrest had something to do with the past fray in Killeen, she asked why he – Stewart – was not also being arrested.”
At that time, HHPD was not aware of the altercation that took place in Killeen, and had no contact with any of the involved parties with the exception of Dure.
On the video, Dure can be seen banging her own head into the patrol unit divider screen.
More HHPD arrived on scene to assist with the emotional woman.
One officer double-checked that Dure’s cuffs were not too tight after she complained about them, and even told her how to sit in order to relieve pressure from her wrists.
Dure was offered, and refused, medical attention more than once.
Police decided, since they were at the hospital, to ask a physician to come outside and examine Dure’s facial injuries
“The physician did so, and was heard to say – on camera – that she was fine,” Chief Gentry said.
Dure told police her injuries were because of “her,” Chief Gentry said. He explained that investigators believed Dure was referring to a third party.
On the video, Dure told officers that her injuries “have nothing to do with me being arrested.”
Although Dure’s transport to the detention facility was uneventful, she became uncooperative during the booking process, and failed to comply with Officer Woods’ instructions.
“At one point, Dure reached towards Officer Wood’s bodycam, and he takes her arm, turns her, and presses her to the wall, loudly telling her not to touch him,” Chief Gentry said.
Dure was not injured during the interaction.
“Later in the booking process, she becomes jovial, cooperative, even joking with Officer Wood,” Chief Gentry noted.
She asked to hug the officer, but he declined “for officer safety reasons,” he said.
Despite Dure’s antics, all of which were captured on video, the arrest was relatively uneventful.
But Dure and Stewart went to the HHPD the next day, on Jan. 2, to file a complaint about police brutality.
“Both provided written statements, asserting that an officer of the Harker Heights Police Department had assaulted and injured her during the arrest and booking process, claiming the injuries to her face and arms were as a result of this arrest,” Chief Gentry said.
After Stewart and Dure made the police brutality claim on Jan. 2, Stewart contacted his wife and told her that HHPD would be calling her.
The call was recorded and shared on social media and with police.
“He asked her to deny that Dure’s injuries had occurred during the affray in Killeen. That phone call is recorded, and we do possess a copy,” Chief Gentry said.
After the chief became aware of the allegations and the complaint, he ordered the internal affairs investigation.
Considering the circumstances, Dure’s arrest for public intoxication was justified, Chief Gentry said.
“At no time was she fought, thrown down, or injured during the arrest. The injuries she sustained were from a violent domestic dispute between her, her boyfriend Stewart, Stewart’s wife, and several others … in Killeen,” he concluded.
Officer Wood, whom Dure falsely accused, was a “decorated military veteran with numerous overseas deployments,” who was hired by the HHPD in January of 2016, following his retirement from the U.S. Army Military Police Corps, Chief Gentry said.
The officer’s attorney, Robert McCabe, addressed Merritt’s blasphemous claims on Tuesday, KHOU reported.
“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,” McCabe said.
“People like Lee Merritt … he’s just a race baiter. That’s what he is,” McCabe told KHOU.
At approximately 2 a.m. on Wednesday, Merritt issued a weak rebuttal on Facebook, in which he conceded that there was “insufficient evidence” to support Dure’s police brutality claim.
“The video evidence presented failed to capture the moment Ms. Dure was pulled from her vehicle and placed under arrest – the very moment she has maintained she was injured by Officer Wood. HHPD claims Officer Wood’s bodycam failed at that very moment, but later came back online to capture her injuries while she was seated in the back of a police vehicle. While our office finds it implausible that [a] failure occurred at the most critical aspect of Ms. Dure’s arrest, the absence of circumstantial evidence that a violent attack occurred during this missing period of recording, coupled with significant evidence that Ms. Dure suffered serious injury to her face prior to her arrest, makes further pursuit of a Civil Rights claim untenable,” Merritt wrote.
He then acknowledged that the evidence did not support Dure’s allegations against Officer Wood.
“There is no factual basis to believe that Officer Joshua Wood committed an assault against Leah Dure. Accordingly, our office will no longer pursue this matter on behalf of Ms. Dure,” Merritt concluded.
Chief Gentry said that the Bell County District Attorney’s Office and the FBI have been assisting with the investigation.
Watch a video compilation of Dure’s arrest and booking below: