Police officer groping M.B. Cottingham instead of the body-pat the man had consented to. (Courtesy YouTube screen grab)

The American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] of the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against Metropolitan Police Officer Sean Lojacono for what they called an “unconstitutional and exceedingly invasive bodily search” of a D.C. resident on Wednesday, July 18.
According to the ACLU, Lojacono searched 39-year-old D.C. resident M.B. Cottingham without a warrant, reasonable suspicion or probable cause in a September 2017 incident captured on video and shared on social media.
“I’ve never been so humiliated in my life,” Cottingham said.
While in the Southwest neighborhood of Bellevue, Cottingham and his friends gathered on a public sidewalk to celebrate his birthday when police cars pull alongside them, the suit said.
According to the lawsuit, Lojacono asked Cottingham what he had in his sock and Cottingham presented a small, legal amount of marijuana. To avoid confrontation, Cottingham said he allowed Lojacono to pat him down.
That is where he said things took a turn.
As detailed in the suit and captured in a video recording, Lojacono slipped his fingers between Cottingham’s buttocks, sticking his thumb in his anus and grabbing his genitals through his sweatpants.
Cottingham verbally protested but was placed in cuffs for the search to continue.
“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,” Cottingham said. “But this officer treated me like I’m not even a human being.”
Officers left the scene without issuing any citations.
The suit alleges that in the weeks following the incident, Cottingham experienced physical discomfort in the areas he was probed and suffers from ongoing anxiety and depression.
The suit also asserts that the officer violated Cottingham’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
MPD Chief Peter Newsham said he saw the video depicting the search while being questioned by Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White at a council hearing about community policing in Wards 7 and 8 on Thursday, July 12.
“It looked like an inappropriate touching by the officer,” Newsham said. “He’s been removed from that particular unit and he has been disciplined for that matter.”
He said the officer was still active on the force.
Cottingham’s lawyer, a senior staff attorney for ACLU Scott Michelman expressed that the officer’s behavior went beyond the scope of standard search. He called Lojacono’s search of Cottingham and unjustified invasion, a violation of is privacy, constitutional rights and “basic dignity.”
“When a routine frisk turns into a search this invasive, the officer is not pursuing a legitimate law enforcement purpose but simply degrading someone and asserting his own power,” Michelman said.
The lawsuit follows another case filed by the ACLU against Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city officials over the District’s failure to collect comprehensive data about stop and frisk by the police as legally required by the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results [NEAR] Act.
Michelman is also counsel in the suit regarding stop-and-frisk data.
“What happened to Mr. Cottingham is part of a larger pattern of aggressive stops and frisks that we hear about regularly from community members,” he said.
He continued that “the MPD’s failure to comply with the NEAR Act’s data collection requirement prevented meaningful oversight of police practices in the city.”
“As a result, abusive searches like the one Mr. Cottingham experienced are more likely to occur.”

Tatyana Hopkins – Washington Informer Contributing Writer

Tatyana Hopkins has always wanted to make the world a better place. Growing up she knew she wanted to be a journalist. To her there were too many issues in the world to pick a career that would force her...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *