The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have filed a lawsuit against the D.C. Metropolitan Police on behalf of a 39-year-old Washington resident who claimed he was sexually abused by an officer during a forced body search back in September 2017.
The stop-and-frisk incident, which was recorded on camera and has since drawn widespread backlash by social media users, showed Officer Sean Lojacono patting down M.B. Cottingham’s body after spotting him and his friends sitting on a public sidewalk with an open bottle of alcohol.
According to the lawsuit, Lojacono forced “his fingers between Mr. Cottingham’s buttocks and grabbed his genitals.” It also accused the officer of “an unconstitutional and exceeding invasive” search “without a warrant, reasonable suspicion or probable cause.”
In the video, posted above, Cottingham, an African-American ice-cream truck vendor, can be seen repeatedly voicing his discomfort over the invasive body search and telling the officer to stop groping him. At one point, he can be heard saying “he just stuck his finger in my crack,” to which Lojacono responded by demanding the man opened his legs wider.
When Cottingham obeyed his order, the officer once again grabbed his private parts, prompting the man to turn around and tell him to stop doing that. It happened a few more times, but none of the officers standing around intervened.
The police officer later handcuffed Cottingham for moving around too much, yet continued to grope him.
“I think it’s emblematic of a larger problem with policing culture here in the District where MPD treats members of the community — and particularly African-American members of the community — presumptively as suspects,” said ACLU-DC Senior Staff Attorney Scott Michelman.
Cottingham told city council members he stopped himself from punching the officer because he “didn’t want to become a hashtag.”
“I’m scared, that’s what’s running through my mind. I’m thinking about my kids, thinking about my own safety,” he recalled. “What’s coming out of this situation? I want him to stop, but I can’t physically get him off me.”
It is important to mention the 39-year-old was unarmed and only had a “small, clear bag containing less than an eighth of an ounce of marijuana – a quantity that a person may legally possess under District law,” according to the lawsuit.
“Mr. Cottingham was deeply uncomfortable with and humiliated by Officer Lojacono’s probing, which continued for several seconds,” the complaint read. “Mr. Cottingham had no weapon or anything else in that area that could have been mistaken for a weapon.”
Although it has been months since his encounter with the D.C. cop, Cottingham said he still feels traumatized. According to the suit, he was unable to work for about a month after the incident due to physical and mental distress, which includes anxiety and depression.
Meanwhile, during a D.C. Council hearing, Police Chief Peter Newsham said he even though he had seen the video, he couldn’t see the “kind of detail that you’re explaining.”
“It looked like it was an inappropriate touching by the officer,” he said, adding Lojacono has “been removed from that particular unit” and has “been disciplined for that matter.”
The officer in question is still on full duty status.
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