“Stop fingering me though, bruh!”
That’s what one Washington, D.C., man told a metro police officer during a body cavity search on Sept. 27, 2017, according to the ACLU. Now the civil rights group is helping him sue the police department, calling video of the incident “shocking and unjustified.”
The lawsuit says it began when officers drove up to 39-year-old M.B. Cottingham and friends as they sat on folding chairs on a public sidewalk. There was an open bottle of alcohol nearby, and they were celebrating Cottingham’s birthday, according to the lawsuit.
Officers pulled up and asked whether the group had weapons, and they said they did not. The lawsuit says it was not clear why the officers pulled up in the first place, as the open bottle of alcohol was “was on the ground at the curb behind a parked car” and not visible from the middle of the street.
The lawsuit says Cottingham asked officers whether they wanted him to pour out the alcohol, and he was told not to and then was asked what was in one of his socks.
Cottingham then removed a bag with less than an eighth of an ounce of marijuana from his sock, which is a legal amount to possess in the district, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says that “as an African-American man in the District,” Cottingham had been “frisked in an aggressive manner several times, and beaten by police on a couple of occasions,” and so knew the officer intended to frisk him.
He asked an officer whether he should do the “hokey pokey,” and the officer said yes. That’s when the lawsuit says things took an inappropriate turn.
Video of the police encounter was posted to YouTube a few days after the police encounter. It shows Cottingham squatting with his hands up and allowing an officer, later identified as Sean Lojacono, to frisk him.
Lojacono begins patting between Cottingham’s legs and moves toward his behind, when Cottingham suddenly jumps away and says: “Come on man .... Don’t do that. He stuck his finger in my crack man, don’t do that.”
Another person off camera says, “Come on man, he don’t got nothing on him.”
“I don’t have nothing,” Cottingham says as Lojacono cuffs Cotttingham’s hands behind his back.
Lojacono puts his hand back between Cottingham’s legs and feels around when Cottingham flinches again and says, “Come on, stop fingering me though, bruh!”
“Stop moving,” Lojacono says.
“You’re fingering my ass! What you mean!”
“I’m outside your pants, bro. Relax.”
They argue as the officer continues patting around Cottingham’s backside and the front of his legs, and then Lojacono takes the cuffs off Cottingham. An officer can be seen pouring out a bottle of liquid in the background.
“You all right?” one of the officers says.
“Yeah we good, we good, you all have a good day, thanks, y’all” one of the men says, and the officers walk back to their cars. No citations were issued.
The video can be seen here. There is some strong language.
The lawsuit says Cottingham was anxious and depressed after the incident, had pain in his rear, and was not able to work in his ice cream truck for about a month.
“I’ve never been so humiliated in my life,” Cottingham said, according to the ACLU. “It’s bad enough that members of my community are stopped and frisked by the police all the time. I’ve been frisked many times and even beaten by police. But this officer treated me like I’m not even a human being.”
The lawsuit says Lojacono was disciplined but still works at the department, and that the chief at one point acknowledged that he’d seen the video and said it looked “inappropriate.”
The complaint says the frisk was excessive and violated Cottingham’s Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The D.C. Attorney General’s office and the police department declined to comment to WJLA.
“It’s very hard to see this other than an officer trying to show his power and dominance,” ACLU attorney Scott Michelman told WJLA. “Treat them as suspects, without cause, stop them and frisk them without justification.”
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and an admittance that Lojacono “violated Plaintiff Cottingham’s rights.”