WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of a man who claims a DC police officer violated his constitutional rights during a Stop and Frisk.
According to the lawsuit, Officer Sean Lojacono “jammed his fingers between Mr. (M.B.) Cottingham’s buttocks and grabbed his genitals” during the search which happened near the intersection of Atlantic and First Streets in Southwest on September 27, 2017.
“He knew that he was violating me. He knew it. He had to have," said the 39-year-old Cottingham, a father of three.
Cell phone video of the incident posted to YouTube has more than 52,000 views.
In the video, Cottingham can be seen protesting what appears to be an invasive body search by Officer Lojacono.
According to the lawsuit, Lojacono was one of several officers who stopped in front of Cottingham and his friends who were sitting on a public sidewalk with an open bottle of alcohol.
“Officers pulled up, as they normally do in my community. You have any guns on you?" Cottingham said. "Everyone almost simultaneously said no at the same time.”
The lawsuit says Officer Lojacono noticed a small bulge in Cottingham’s sock, which was 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…”
Cottingham then placed the bag of marijuana on the hood of a nearby car and asked Officer Lojacono
“Do you need me to do the hokey-pokey?”
According to the lawsuit, hokey-pokey is “street slang for turning oneself around while lifting one’s shirt for the purpose of demonstrating to a police officer that one is unarmed.”
On the cell phone video, Cottingham can be seen lifting his arms and turning around. It’s what happened next that is at the heart of the legal action.
According to the lawsuit, “Officer Lojacono reached immediately between Mr. Cottingham’s legs, grabbed his scrotum, felt around with his hand and stuck his thumb in Mr. Cottingham’s anus.”
“Mr. Cottingham was deeply uncomfortable with and humiliated by Officer Lojacono’s probing, which continued for several seconds,” the lawsuit states. “Mr. Cottingham had no weapon or anything else in that area that could have been mistaken for a weapon.”
On the video, Cottingham can be seen protesting the search a number of times, indicating it was far more intrusive than what he had agreed to.
“Come on man! Come on man!” Cottingham said loudly. “He stuck his finger in my crack, man!”
At one point on the video, Cottingham can be seen swatting the officer’s hands away from him, at which point Officer Lojacono places him in handcuffs. Officer Lojacono then searches the same areas on Cottingham’s body a second and third time.
“He again goes back in after he stopped," Cottingham said in an interview. "Same area I just told you I was uncomfortable. Now I don’t know what you think? You’re not going to pull a rabbit out of a hat. So to speak.”
The officer eventually removed the handcuffs after not finding any weapons or illegal drugs. The police did not cite Cottingham or any of his friends for the open container of alcohol, which the officers poured out.
At a D.C. Council oversight hearing on public safety and the DC Metropolitan Police Department’s use of Stop and Frisk June 12, Police Chief Peter Newsham said after reviewing video of the incident, “it looked like it was an inappropriate touching by the officer.”
Newsham also said the officer had been disciplined and removed from his unit but was still on active duty with the police department.
ACLU DC Senior Attorney Scott Michelman, said the officer should be fired.
“When an officer misbehaves this badly, the consequences should be severe," Michelman said. "I think if the chief is serious about policing in a constitutional and respectful manner, the types of actions we saw in that video have no place in the District of Columbia.
The lawsuit claims Officer Lojacono violated Cottingham’s Fourth Amendment Rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by government officers and asks for compensatory and punitive damages.
“The officers are supposed to be there to protect and serve," Cottingham said. "They took an oath. They have a code of ethics. They have a mission statement to follow. They’re not doing it.”
The lawsuit claims Cottingham, an ice-cream truck vendor for the past nine years, did not work for a month “because of the trauma of the searches by Officer Lojacono.” The lawsuit also says Cottingham also worked as “an entertainer,” canceling a performance in October 2017 due to the trauma of the incident.