ACLU Sues D.C. Police Officer Over ‘Humiliating’ Stop-And-Frisk
The ACLU lawsuit alleges that D.C. police went too far in their search during a stop-and-frisk. Photo: Tim Evanson / Flickr
A 39-year-old African American resident of Washington, D.C. is suing a Metropolitan Police Department officer for probing his genitalia during a stop and frisk, according to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit filed in D.C. Superior Court today.
In recent weeks, city lawmakers have sharply questioned the tactics used by police to search for guns after several videos emerged showing controversial stop-and-frisks by D.C. police officers.
The incident that sparked the ACLU lawsuit was also captured on cellphone video and posted to YouTube, where it has been viewed more than 50,000 times.
The lawsuit alleges that in September 2017, M.B. Cottingham and his friends were sitting on lawn chairs on a sidewalk in Southwest D.C. It was late in the afternoon, and the men were making plans to celebrate Cottingham’s birthday. One of the men opened up a bottle of alcohol.
Suddenly, two police vehicles rolled up, one of them unmarked, according to the lawsuit. Several uniformed officers got out of the vehicles and asked the men if they had any firearms.
Cottingham and his friends said they did not.
The ACLU-DC lawsuit alleges that Cottingham gave Officer Sean Lojacono permission to pat him down, but nothing beyond that.
The suit claims that Lojacono forced “his fingers between Mr. Cottingham’s buttocks and grabbed his genitals.” Lojacono then handcuffed Cottingham and continued to probe his private areas — two more times.
“Mr. Cottingham physically flinched and verbally protested, making clear that this highly intrusive search was not within the scope of the frisk to which he had consented,” according to the suit.
In a video recorded by Cottingham’s friend, Cottingham can be heard saying “Stop fingering me, bro” and “Don’t [emasculate] me” as Lojacono continued to search.
In an interview with WAMU, Cottingham said he found the encounter “uncomfortable” and “humiliating” adding, “It’s not easy to just hand over your manhood like that.”
Cottingham says he’s been stopped by D.C. police more than a dozen times in his life.
“What happened to Mr. Cottingham is part of a larger pattern of aggressive stop-and-frisks that we hear about regularly from community members,” said Scott Michelman, ACLU-DC Senior Staff Attorney, who is representing Cottingham.
At a D.C. Council hearing on July 12, Council member Trayvon White (D-Ward 8) asked Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham about the incident.
“I have seen the video… It looked like it was an inappropriate touching by the officer,” Chief Newsham said. He noted that Officer Lojacono was removed from that particular unit and has been disciplined.