WASHINGTON (WJLA) — The cell phone video shows a ‘Stop and Frisk’ encounter last September between an MPD officer and M.B. Cottingham, a D.C. resident.
“Come on man! Stop fingering me, bruh!” the 39-year-old cries out.
“Stop moving,” replies Officer Sean Lojacono.
Video of alleged stop-and-frisk anal probe courtesy of ACLU
Now, 10 months after that pat-down, the ACLU of DC has filed a federal lawsuit against Lojacono, calling it an illegal and invasive body search.
“The officer, instead of frisking him for weapons, just jams his finger and his hand between Mr. Cottingham’s legs,” said ACLU attorney Scott Michelman.
The lawsuit states that Cottingham and several friends were sitting on folding chairs near the intersection of Atlantic and First Streets, SW, on the evening of September 27.
They had just opened a bottle of alcohol, in celebration of Cottingham’s birthday, when two cruisers, one marked and one unmarked, pulled up.
The suit says several officers, including Lojacono, “got out of their cars and asked the men if they had any guns. They responded they did not.”
The complaint says after Lojacono asked Cottingham what was in his sock, the 39-year-old pulled out a bag containing “less than an eighth of an ounce of marijuana,” a legal amount in the District, according to the ACLU.
On the video, Lojacono can be seen starting to frisk Cottingham.
“I’m sorry man, I didn’t do a thing,” he says.
Another voice says, “You got nothing on him.”
Cottingham says what happened next was frightening and humiliating.
ABC7 News asked him asked him about the incident after a reporter read through the lawsuit.
“It says the officer grabbed your genitals, that he jammed his fingers between your buttocks. Is that what happened?” Cottingham was asked.
“That’s exactly what happened,” he answered quietly.
But that was only the start, Cottingham says.
He can be heard on the video telling Lojacono, “Don’t do that!”
The lawsuit claims the officer handcuffed Cottingham with his hands behind his back, and did two more cavity searches.
“I’m scared, that’s what’s running through my mind. I’m thinking about my kids, thinking about my own safety,” Cottingham recalled. “What’s coming out of this situation? I want him to stop, but I can’t physically get him off me.”
The lawsuit says Lojacono eventually removed the handcuffs, after failing to find any weapons or contraband.
The complaint also states that police didn’t cite anyone for the open container of alcohol.
“It’s very hard to see this other than an officer trying to show his power and dominance,” Michelman said. “Treat them as suspects, without cause, stop them and frisk them without justification.”
The lawsuit also claims at a June 12 DC Council Hearing, Police Chief Peter Newsham “acknowledged he had seen a video of the encounter.”
The suit quotes the chief as stating, “It looked like it was an inappropriate touching by the officer.”
The narrative also says Newsham stated that Officer Lojacono had been disciplined, but was still on active duty with MPD.
Contacted Wednesday, the department released a statement saying “MPD does not comment on pending litigations.”
The DC Attorney General’s office, contacted by ABC7 News, also declined to comment.
The lawsuit says Cottingham, an ice cream vendor, was unable to work for about a month after the encounter, and has been suffering physical and emotional distress, including anxiety and depression.
The complaint says Lojacono’s actions violated Cottingham’s right to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures by government officers,” and calls for a jury trial, asking for unspecified damages.
Michelman says he expects to hear a response from the DC Attorney General’s Office in a few weeks.
Cottingham adds he believes Lojacono should lose his job.
He says he hopes the lawsuit will spark changes in police culture and training.
Meanwhile, all these months later, Cottingham says the incident still haunts him.
“I thought about becoming a hashtag: ‘policeman killing unarmed black man,’” he said. “I didn’t want to become one of them.”