The settlement includes victim compensation, acknowledgment of subpar police conduct, and mandatory training of the police force
Austin, Texas—Today, the city of San Marcos and three of its police officials, Chase Stapp, Brandon Winkenwerder, and Matthew Daenzner, settled the Cervini v. Stapp case involving allegations that they failed to appropriately respond to a so-called “Trump Train” on Interstate 35 that swarmed and assaulted Biden-Harris supporters aboard a campaign bus on October 30th, 2020. In settling this case, the City, on behalf of the San Marcos Police Department, has admitted to falling short of its own policing standards, agreed to institute mandatory training for all officers, and agreed to pay a total of $175,000 in damages to the Plaintiffs whom they failed to protect.
In bringing the case, the plaintiffs Wendy Davis, Timothy Holloway, David Gins, and Eric Cervini, represented by Protect Democracy, the Texas Civil Rights Project, and Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP claimed that the San Marcos Police Department violated the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871—a statute that makes it illegal for law enforcement to negligently fail to take steps to prevent certain conspiracies to engage in election-related violence or intimidation.
You can view a PDF of the settlement terms here.
“The intimidation we experienced on the highway that day and the threat to our safety, simply for engaging in the political process and supporting the candidate of our choosing, should never happen in this country,” said Wendy Davis, Plaintiff and Former Texas State Senator. “To have a functioning democracy, elections must be won at the ballot box based on the strength of a party’s ideas and not through violence or intimidation. In settling this case we have underscored these fundamental democratic principles by holding to account those who turned a blind eye to defending them.”
Startling evidence from this case included 9-1-1 recordings and text messages between City of San Marcos employees, which revealed that instead of appropriately responding to distress calls or communications from a neighboring jurisdiction warning that the campaign bus needed assistance, officials joked about the Plaintiffs’ pleas for help, called them offensive names, and/or made fun of their reaction to the dangerous situation.
“Every voter has the fundamental right to engage in peaceful political advocacy free from fear, intimidation, or violence,” said Christina Beeler, Voting Rights Staff Attorney of the Texas Civil Rights Project. “As a society, we have to be able to rely on law enforcement to help protect those freedoms and all people from political violence and intimidation regardless of party or political beliefs.”
“Unfortunately, this incident is just one example of a worrying trend of political violence that’s threatening the freeness and fairness of our elections,” John Paredes, Counsel at Protect Democracy. “In the event we see more of it around the 2024 election, it is critical that law enforcement understand that they have a role to play in preventing political violence, and that they can be held accountable if they fail in this duty.”
“The Plaintiffs, who originally brought this case to root out political violence and help ensure that what happened to them never happens again, have been vindicated today,” said Sam Hall, Partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP. “This settlement—which includes financial relief for our clients and mandatory police training—shows how the Klan Act can be used to safeguard free and fair elections from the corrosive impact of violence and intimidation.”
The Plaintiffs also filed a second case, Cervini v. Cisneros, against individual drivers and organizers of the so-called “Trump Train” alleging they conspired to harass and intimidate those aboard the Biden-Harris campaign bus. Plaintiffs allege that that conspiracy also violated the Klan Act.
More information about these cases is available here.
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