A man was pepper sprayed in the face, arrested and denied medical attention after he filmed a Keller police officer arrest his son over a traffic violation in August.
On Aug. 15, two officers with the Keller police department pepper sprayed Marco Puente directly in the eyes while they pinned him to the ground and handcuffed him. The entire incident was video recorded on multiple dash cam and body worn cameras. The Keller police chief apologized for his officers’ behavior two days later and said they were in the wrong, according to a federal lawsuit Puente and his attorneys filed against the officers in Fort Worth District Court on Dec. 15.
“I could ask ‘why?’ to basically every choice they made,” attorney James Roberts said about what the suit calls the officers’ “excessive force” against Puente.
Marco Puente, an emergency electrician from Keller, sat in the back of a police car for nearly 20 minutes begging for someone to wipe the pepper spray from his eyes.
“It was a terrible feeling,” Puente said. “It was claustrophobic, I couldn’t breathe. I was hot, burning. In the police video you can hear me yelling for help, and saying, ‘Give me something to alleviate this.’”
Keller police cannot comment on pending litigation, but the police department confirmed that one officer involved was demoted from sergeant to officer because of his arrest of Puente.
Pepper sprayed while handcuffed
On Aug. 15, Marco Puente and his son, Dillon Puente, were driving to Marco Puente’s wife’s grandfather’s house to fix Dillon Puente’s air conditioning in his car. As Dillon Puente approached the home in the Riverdance neighborhood, Sgt. Blake Shimanek pulled him over on a street inside the subdivision for making a wide right turn.
Dash cam and body cam footage provided to the Star-Telegram show how the traffic violation escalated to Marco Puente’s arrest.
In the video, Shimanek walks up to Dillon Puente’s window, which is about three-fourths of the way rolled up, and tells him to roll it the rest of the way down. He asks Dillon Puente to step out and put his hands on the car, which he does. He starts handcuffing the 22-year-old, and asks him, “Why are you acting so suspicious?”
Marco Puente pulls up in the truck across the street and yells to his son, asking what happened. Dillon Puente yells back that he rolled up his window and Shimanek got mad. Marco Puente starts recording the arrest on his cell phone.
“You’re about to be arrested for blocking the roadway if you don’t park and get out,” Shimanek yells to Marco Puente, who is parked by the curb on the opposite side of the street. “You’re interfering with my job.”
Marco Puente, at Shimanek’s demand, backs up the truck and parks in front of his wife’s grandfather’s house. He gets out of the truck and walks up the sidewalk, still recording. Shimanek tells Dillon Puente it was suspicious of him to drive with his window down on a hot day and then roll it up once he got pulled over.
Another officer, identified in the lawsuit as Officer Antik Tomer, pulls up at the scene. Shimanek points at Marco Puente and says, “Watch him.”
“Watch me watch, stand here?” Puente says.
“Better yet,” Shimanek says, “arrest him.”
“For what?” Puente says from the sidewalk.
“For blocking the roadway,” Shimanek says.
Tomer walks over to Puente, grabs his arm and starts to put handcuffs on him. He tells him to drop his phone, which is still recording. Puente asks what he is being arrested for and continues holding his phone.
Shimanek walks across street and puts Puente in a headlock and knocks his phone from his head. He and Tomer push Puente to the ground and Shimanek sits on his back and cuffs him. Tomer pulls out a can of pepper spray and holds it inches from Puente’s face as Puente yells that he isn’t doing anything.
“Dude, oh my god, what are you doing?” he says. “What the heck?”
Shimanek tells Tomer to spray Puente, and Tomer starts spraying him in the face. He takes Puente’s sunglasses off and sprays him again in the eyes.
In the video, Puente’s wife’s grandfather is heard yelling at the officers. He had come out of the house and was also recording officers, and he yells at them and refuses to back up when Shimanek tells him to.
The officers pull Puente, who is yelling that his “eyes are on fire,” to his feet and put him in the back of a police car.
Puente asks for a towel, which Shimanek tells him they will give him soon. Over the next 15 minutes, Puente begs repeatedly for someone to give him a towel or help him wipe his face, but he is ignored.
“This officer literally took nothing and made it into something,” Scott Palmer, another of Puente’s attorneys, said about Shimanek’s actions. “He literally created havoc.”
Denied medical attention
Puente and his attorneys say he never should have been arrested or pepper sprayed in the first place, but the indifference officers showed to his continued suffering was even more egregious. Shimanek, who is seen on video complaining about the pepper spray burning his arms, wipes at his own skin with a towel, but tells Tomer not to give one to Puente.
Puente, who is Hispanic, was told over and over again as he sat in the police car that he would receive help from paramedics at the jail. But as Tomer drove Puente to the jail, they passed those paramedics — the officers had told EMS to go to the scene, even though Puente had already been driven away.
Once Tomer and Puente reached the jail, Puente was left in the back of the car for another seven minutes.
“You can hear him as they’re sitting in the sally port of the police station casually talking,” Roberts said. “He’s yelling for seven minutes. You see Shimanek complaining of the pepper spray burning him, and he only had it on his on his arms. Puente had it in his eyes.”
Fifteen minutes after being pepper sprayed, Puente received the help he had been begging for when jail attendants — not paramedics — sat him down in a chair and sprayed water in his eyes. Afterward, officers fingerprinted Puente, gave him orange-and-white striped clothes and booked him into jail. Through a sliver in the wall, Puente saw his son being walked into the station as well. From 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., Puente sat in a cell and wondered what had just happened.
“I’m thinking about what the heck went wrong,” Puente said. “I keep going back to that I did nothing illegal. Is it because this officer didn’t like what I was doing? Is it because he has more power than me?”
Puente also thought about how his wife’s grandfather, who is white, yelled at the police and did not move when Shimanek told him to, but he was not arrested.
“So is that the reason they didn’t pursue him?” Puente said. “Did they get me because I’m a brown guy in a nice neighborhood? It kind of seems that way.”
According to body cam footage, Shimanek told his supervisor that he pulled Dillon Puente over because he suspected him of having narcotics, and he arrested him so he could search his car. No drugs were found in the car. Dillon Puente paid the traffic ticket for making a wide right hand turn and was released from jail shortly after his arrest. Puente wasn’t charged with anything.
Police Chief Brad Fortune met with Puente and his family the Monday after his arrest and apologized for what happened. According to the lawsuit, he said his officers were in the wrong.
“Did it make me feel better? Yeah,” Puente said. “Does it fix it? No.”
For his role in Puente’s arrest, Shimanek was demoted from sergeant to officer. Tomer was not disciplined because he was following orders from a supervising officer. The internal affairs investigation found the Shimanek showed conduct unbecoming of an officer, and that Puente did not block the roadway or interfere with Shimanek’s duties, as Shimanek claimed.
Fortune also showed the footage of Puente’s arrest to the Chief’s Advisory Council, which reviews all reports of police complaints and uses of force, and advises the police chief on matters of policy and training.
Puente and his attorneys hope the lawsuit helps hold Shimanek and Tomer responsible for their actions.
Every day when he looks in the mirror, Puente sees a scar that reminds him of the day of his arrest — when Tomer pulled Puente’s sunglasses from his face to pepper spray him, he ripped Puente’s nostril.
“So I’ve got this scar on my nose that I see every day,” Puente said. “It’s in the middle of my face. That takes me back, like why is that thing even there. There’s no reason for this to be there.”
His 22-year-old son feels like he’s “always looking over his shoulder,” wondering if he is going to be arrested for “making a wide right turn” again, Puente said.
Records provided by the Keller police department show Shimanek was disciplined once in 2016 and reprimanded in 2018.
In 2016, an internal investigation found he searched a woman’s home without permission and threatened to call Child Protective Services without just cause. In 2018, he was the subject of a complaint after he spoke to teachers and made a comment about “women not carrying guns because they would not be able to protect the children during a school shooting.”
In 2019, Tomer was reprimanded when he responded to a “swatting” call and told the caller that he did not want to “respond to this kind of (expletive) again,” according to a written reprimand. He also told the caller that if “somebody calls in again, we won’t respond to this type of call.”