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Man who sued deputies for choking him for smiling in mug shot appears in court

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas – A Harris County inmate who claims he was assaulted by deputies for smiling during his booking photo was in court Monday morning.

Christopher Johnson's attorney requested more time to prepare before trial, and he said they will be back in court Dec. 12. The trial is regarding the DWI with which Johnson is charged.

Johnson is suing the Harris County Sheriff's Office after, he said, two county employees grabbed him by the neck and choked him for 30 seconds because he smiled.

Johnson was arrested on July 25, 2015, on suspicion of drunken driving. His attorneys are seeking compensation for the incident, saying it caused Johnson "significant pain and mental anguish."

Court documents said a deputy demanded Johnson stop smiling while taking the pictures.

"Man, take the picture right," the deputy said, according to court documents.

Johnson responded, "What are you talking about? This is how I always take pictures."

Investigators said the deputy continued to tell Johnson to stop smiling.

"Well, I'll tell you what, if you don't stop smiling, we're going to make you stop smiling," one deputy was quoted as saying.

According to court records, three officers held Johnson by the neck for about 30 seconds -- making it difficult for him to breathe or smile -- as a fourth jail employee snapped the picture.

After the final picture was taken, investigators said Johnson asked to be treated for pain in his neck and was told to sit down and be quiet.

KPRC 2 spoke with Johnson Monday after he got out of court. He only spoke briefly before walking away.

"I was not intoxicated, and I'm just waiting on my day in court," Johnson said.

KPRC 2 News followed up with his attorney, Morris Overstreet, and asked him about the booking photo incident.

"I would hate to think that that's standard procedure in jail," Overstreet said. "The person was handcuffed, and I don't see how they can justify assistance in that regard."

The Harris County Sheriff's Office said, "It is not uncommon for detention personnel to assist impaired or uncooperative detainees during the booking photo process. And that there is no policy or procedure that prohibits smiling during the booking photo process." 

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