Complaint alleges racial profiling in police treatment of Medford teenagers


Local

Two teenagers were arrested on a tip that they had a gun in the vehicle, which turned out to be false.

Medford Town Hall Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

One day in July last year, two teenagers were driving through Medford, the town where they both graduated from high school.

But the day will end up looking like no other for Jeremiah Mamousette and Hibaq Warsame.

A lawsuit filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston claims that as Mamousette crossed the Winthrop Street roundabout to High Street, he noticed a police car following closely behind him. There were other cruisers in the area, and some were turning to follow the vehicle.

After performing a traffic stop, holding them at gunpoint and searching the vehicle, officers eventually let Mamousette and Warsame go, saying they had been given an anonymous tip that the couple had a gun in the car, according to the complaint. One of the officers called the incident “procedural”.

But for Mamousette and Warsame, who were both 19 at the time and identify as black, the incident left them upset.

“What we’re seeing here is a marked escalation of police authority,” Sophia Hall, associate director of litigation at Lawyers for Civil Rights, told Boston.com. She noted that she “can’t reconcile” the need for so many cruisers performing U-turns and officers pointing their guns at the two teenagers.

“The idea here that all of this force was needed in the beginning – it contradicts everything in terms of the concept of de-escalation,” she said.

The Incident

On July 8, 2021, Mamousette was driving when the teenagers noticed the increased police presence, according to the complaint. He parked the vehicle on the High Street.

Then an officer began using a speakerphone to communicate with the couple, according to the complaint. Mamousette was ordered to roll down her window, get out of the car, and back towards the cruiser. Three or four other officers pulled out their guns and pointed them at the teens, according to the complaint. After following the instructions, Mamousette was handcuffed.

Warsame stayed in the vehicle, then was told to do the same as Mamousette. She, too, was handcuffed, according to the complaint.

One of the officers asked if Mamousette had a gun in the vehicle, to which he replied no. He asked why he was being held, but officers said nothing, according to the complaint.

“Mr. Mamousett and Ms. Warsame were very embarrassed to be held up on the side of a main road in broad daylight in their home town, where they attended secondary school,” the complaint said. those passing by. At one point, Ms Warsame asked officers if she could raise her hood to cover her face and avoid public embarrassment, but the officer denied her request.

Hall noted that the incident came just weeks after Derek Chauvin, a white Minnesota police officer, stood trial for the murder of George Floyd, a black man. She noted that after this public murder by police officers and others, Mamousette couldn’t help but wonder if the same thing was going to happen to her.

“Am I going to be the next hashtag?” Hall asked. “Am I going to be the next person the national news is talking about because I’m killed while interacting with the police?”

Warsame described the embarrassment she felt.

“I just remember standing on this public roundabout with my face in the sun as every person passed by and seemed to be staring,” she said via an LCR press release. “I pleaded with the officer to let me cover my face and explained that I graduated from Medford High School and am a good boy, but my pleas fell on deaf ears. ”

After about 10 minutes, and the search was over, police let Mamousette and Warsame go, saying they were responding to an anonymous point of a gun in the vehicle, and that what happened was “procedure “, according to the complaint.

Police asked the two men if perhaps a friend had called the tip as a joke, to which the couple replied no. Police did not apologize, according to the complaint, noting instead that “we take these things very seriously.” They then wrote down their names to file a report, according to the complaint.

The complaint

The complaint against Medford Police alleges “unreasonable searches and seizures” by officers during the incident.

“Furthermore, the unprofessional conduct of MPD officers in detaining Mr. Mamousette and Ms. Warsame without explanation, using inappropriate force and handcuffing them, raises concerns of racial profiling and stereotyping that violate their right to equal protection,” the report said.

The complaint asks for a formal apology from the two teenagers, an independent investigation into the incident, compensation for emotional and physical harm, a description of the steps the service would take to ensure that an incident like this does not happen again, including including training for the police and payment of legal fees.

The department has already opened an internal affairs investigation, according to Hall. But there is no information on the actual existence of a report, she said. The teenage couple had gone to the police department shortly after the incident to seek information about what had happened, but said they were told there was no relation to the time.

Nor is there any information about the spike that triggered the incident in the first place, Hall said. The only communication she had with Medford police, she said, was limited to notifying them of the internal investigation and a request to speak with her clients.

The city responds

The department did not respond to a Boston.com request for comment.

Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn responded with a statement.

“As soon as we received this complaint just a few weeks ago, we immediately launched an internal investigation which will focus on all aspects of this incident,” she said. “We will remain transparent to the extent possible as this remains an open investigation.

“The Medford Police Department is committed to community policing and fair and just policies,” Lungo-Koehn continued. “However, if there is any indication of inappropriate protocol based on race, let me be clear that we will not condone these actions and we will hold anyone involved fully accountable. Our policies are in place to ensure the safety of all, be consistent and fair for all.



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