A Black non-binary individual has reached a $35,000 settlement after they were allegedly tased in the crotch by NYPD officers after their birthday party.
The settlement comes nearly two years after Danée Sergeant, who is a community activist and mental health advocate, said they were accosted on the street by NYPD officers Erica Rivera and Toni Burke after allegedly criticizing the department’s questioning of Black people outside of a bar, according to a 10-page complaint filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. The lawsuit highlights multiple allegations, including that cops used excessive force, issued a false arrest, fabricated evidence, and violated Sergeant’s civil rights. Lawyers at Cohen and Green P.L.L.C are handling the lawsuit.
“This is how the New York [City] Police Department behaves; they are constantly on a rage-driven power trip,” said Sergeant’s lawyer, J. Remy Green, who explained that similar incidents often arise when people speak out against the NYPD. Green cited another incident last month when David Crowell, a 29-year-old Black man, was shocked in the back after he yelled expletives at the police.
“Individual members of the department — whenever they feel their authority is challenged in any way — often react with violence,” Green said.
In the fall of 2019, Sergeant was celebrating their birthday on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. That morning, Sergeant criticized a group of police officers for questioning people of color on the street.
“Nah. Let them protect the white people, that’s what they’re there for… Y’all go protect the white people,” Sergeant said, according to court documents.
Body camera footage of the incident has been released and can be viewed here. (Note: the video contains graphic footage of the moment when Sergeant was tased). According to the footage, Sergeant put their hand out but did not touch the officer. NYPD Officer Erica Rivera then said, “Don’t put your hand out at me!”
“I didn’t touch you,” Sergeant told the officer.
“Alright, just keep f****** walking, bro,” Officer Rivera said.
“Don’t talk to me like that,” Sergeant responded.
“Put your hand down. Put your hand down,” Officer Rivera said.
“They up! They up b**ch,” Sergeant said, as they stretched their hands up into the air.
The video shows the confrontation escalating when officers Rivera and Burke yanked Sergeant’s sweatshirt, which caused Sergeant to choke.
“I didn’t do nothing!” Sergeant yelled, according to the footage. Then, an unnamed individual in the background says, “[They] didn’t do nothing! chill.”
Pedestrians were seen recording the incident on their cellphones, and then the group screamed, “No! No! No!” as officers grappled Sergeant’s body. At that point, officers pulled out a taser and zapped Sergeant’s groin, according to the video and court papers. The shock caused Sergeant to begin flailing on the ground and shrieking in pain, video footage shows.
“It is against the training and guidance from the taser company to deploy a taser on somebody’s crotch,” Green said, referring to the NYPD’s Patrol Guide. “And that’s what they did to Danée here.”
While the footage shows that officers perceived Sergeant as male, Green said they were misgendered and identified as female in the paperwork.
Green said it is unclear whether the alleged assault was fueled by gender-related bias.
“I cannot say for certain whether that’s bad training in general, or that’s gender motivated, or something else entirely,” Green said. “In this case, it’s hard to separate what might be some kind of gender malice from the general rage and malice that comes with retaliating against Danée for questioning why [the police] were only questioning Black people outside of a bar.”
Sergeant was subsequently put in handcuffs and placed in a cop car.
Per the lawsuit, Sergeant was detained and taken to a hospital to remove the taser prongs. However, officials allegedly failed to provide them with “any means of covering the puncture wounds,” and they were tossed into a dirty overnight cell with open lacerations, court documents said. Sergeant was then arraigned on criminal charges, which cited false allegations from NYPD Officer Rivera, according to the lawsuit. Sergeant was accused of yelling at the officer and refusing her orders, the suit notes.
“Defendant Rivera forwarded these false allegations or caused the allegations to be forwarded to the New York County District Attorney’s Office despite the false nature of the allegations,” the lawsuit said. “At no time did defendants have probable cause to seize, detain or arrest the plaintiff, nor to use any force on plaintiff, nor was it reasonable for the defendants to believe that such cause existed.”
Sergeant’s criticism of the police, which sparked the alleged assault, is protected under the US Constitution. The charges against Sergeant were later dismissed.
The NYPD and the New York City Law Department did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.
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