Music producer Antone Austin says his life was turned upside down about two years ago when police officers arrested him and his girlfriend outside his California home in what a federal lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles claims was a case of racial profiling, excessive force and unlawful arrest.
With a trial date set for October, Austin, known professionally as Tone Stackz, hopes a pretrial effort to make public the Los Angeles Police Department’s body camera video of the incident will shed light on his lawsuit’s civil rights claims and help with what his attorney, Faisal Gill, described as a “black hole”: their effort to get the criminal charges dropped.
“The police had zero justification to arrest my client,” Gill said Wednesday. “He never took a swing. He never acted inappropriately. He never hit them. He never attacked them — he did nothing.”
Michelle Michlewicz and Antone Austin.Courtesy Antone Austin/Michelle Michlewicz
In an interview Thursday, Austin, 42, said he hoped the public would get the opportunity to view the multiple angles of body-worn camera video that he and his legal team have already viewed.
Los Angeles police said they do not comment on pending litigation. NBC Los Angeles first reported the effort to release the body camera video.
The federal lawsuit, filed last year, alleges that the couple were wrongly arrested in front of Austin’s duplex apartment on May 24, 2019. shortly after his upstairs neighbor called the police to enforce a restraining order in a domestic dispute.
When officers arrived at his Hollywood address, the suit alleges, Austin happened to be taking the trash to the curb.
“When I first saw the cops, I looked at them with more of a smile, ‘Hey, how are you doing,’ type of vibe, and when I realized that they were coming at me and I could see the anger in these cops’ eyes while they were approaching me, it was like, ‘What is happening?'” Austin said.
The officers approached Austin, a Black man who is 6 feet, 5 inches tall, and he raised his hands, but officers immediately began to apply excessive force without asking him for his name or identification or whether he lived there, the suit alleges.
“Even after the caller of the initial complaint informed officers that Mr. Austin was not the perpetrator, they continued to unlawfully seize Mr. Austin, placing him in a choke hold and tackling him to the ground and twisting his arms in positions causing extreme pain,” the suit alleges.
“They didn’t care,” Austin said in a news release. “The officer just said, ‘We got a call,’ as he started to put his hands on me.”
His girlfriend, singer Michelle Michlewicz, 30, rushed from the shower and tried to intervene before she was pushed by an officer into the street, where her clothing came undone, exposing her body to the public, the suit alleges.
Austin and Michlewicz’s lawsuit alleges that 10 unnamed police officers used excessive force, failed to intervene, violated civil rights laws and committed battery and negligence during the arrest.
The couple were taken to jail and held before they posted bail after midnight, the suit says.
Austin was charged with felony resisting arrest and assault on a police officer; his bail was set at $7,000. Michlewicz was charged with felony lynching, a California law against “the taking by means of a riot of another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer” that carries a maximum of four years in prison. Her bail was set at $50,000.
None of the charges have been dropped, and none have been prosecuted, Gill said.
Austin said the pending charges loom over him.
“Has the case been dismissed, or is this something I have to worry about popping up five years from now when I’m driving down the street and a cop pulls me over for taking a left turn, and he says, ‘Hey, there’s a warrant out for your arrest because there is a charge you didn’t get to deal with’?” Austin asked.
“I just want to find out what’s going on. I want it to be resolved,” he said.
Austin said he knows the interaction with Los Angeles police could have gone better because later it did: Officers returned to his block later that week after his neighbor again called the police to enforce her restraining order; the original suspect — a much shorter white man — had escaped when police wrongly arrested Austin, he said.
On the second visit, different officers asked Austin for his name and whether he lived there and acted “professionally,” he said.
“They asked me, ‘Hey, how are you doing, sir, have you seen anything suspicious?'” Austin said. “They were real respectful.”