EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The community continues to rally behind a man and his dog who many believe were unfairly targeted by local city parking meter enforcement, leading to a violent incident with El Paso Police Department officers that attorneys are now looking into for potential excessive use of force.
Last Friday, Manel “Shorty” Luna, who is homeless and disabled, and his dog Ojos, who is Shorty’s registered service animal, were allegedly assaulted by EPPD in downtown El Paso after parking meter officials reported them for dancing on East Mills Ave.
The law office of Wyatt and Underwood, located downtown, caught wind of the incident and offered to help Shorty and Ojos.
“My initial concerns are number one, why were they interacting with him in the first place?” Underwood tells KTSM. “My understanding is that there were some parking enforcement employees, also known as the ‘Segway Karens’ in certain circles of my job, who had interacted with him about all things in the world — dancing in the street,” he adds.
Shorty told KTSM on Friday that the melee started because he started dancing to a song that was being played by a downtown business through its outside speaker. He recognized the song from a popular YouTube video and felt inspired to recreate the choreography.
Underwood says he’s in the research gathering phase and is collecting eyewitness testimony and video footage.
As of Tuesday morning, Underwood says the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office did not have any record of Shorty’s arrest, but that charges were filed late Tuesday morning.
The EPPD sent a statement over the weekend confirming it is aware of the incident and reviewing. KTSM also reached out to the City of El Paso regarding parking enforcement officials; this story will be updated once more information is available.
Questions remain regarding the protocols and jurisdiction that city parking enforcement has, especially when it comes to someone without a vehicle.
“I don’t know why a parking person would have the authority to tell you to get out of a public place when you’re not impeding traffic, which I think all these business owners are going to agree that he was in no way impeding traffic at all,” says Underwood.
Additionally, eyewitness video and photographs show that Shorty was compliant with EPPD.
A photo sent to KTSM shows Shorty on his knees with his hands above his head in surrender that was taken moments before more officers arrived and the violent incident occurred.
Underwood says there’s no need for that, especially by City personnel.
“We do need the police; we support the police but we also support the police doing their job and literally not kicking people when they’re down,” he says.
The downtown business community says it’s fed up with what it claims is impunity by the parking enforcement officials who are backed up by EPPD.
On Tuesday, a petition was created asking for signatures in support of “Defunding Parking Enforcement.”
The incident that started with city employees being bothered by someone dancing in the street is quickly turning into a larger issue regarding the conduct of EPPD and other city employees as regards conduct in their official capacities, treatment of homeless and disabled population, and — ultimately — the Golden Rule.
“As far as I know, we don’t live in the movie ‘Footloose,’” says Underwood.
“There’s no law that prohibits you from dancing in the street, especially by yourself,” he adds. “The fact that you have parking attendants, who write parking tickets, and are harassing a man who doesn’t have a vehicle, is kind of silly.”