Frisking incident prompts lawsuit against D.C. police officer

WASHINGTON D.C. – A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia against a District of Columbia police officer contends the plaintiff, M.B. Cottingham, had his rights violated by an unlawful stop and frisk last September.

“I’ve never been so humiliated in my life,” said Cottingham, a lifelong D.C. resident who makes his living as an ice cream vendor. “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. But this officer treated me like I’m not even a human being.”

Cottingham said he was in the Bellevue neighborhood, visiting a family member, when he went spotted a group of friends outside. He went out to talk to them when police arrived asking the group whether or not they were carrying guns.

Even though Cottingham was unarmed he agreed to a request by police to search his body.

Cottingham, 39, shared a video that a friend took of the incident. It shows him being patted down from behind by Officer Sean Lojacono then objecting when the search included an alleged probing from the officer.

Cottingham was then handcuffed, and the search continued. Cottingham said his genitals were grabbed and he was also probed two more times by Lojacono. Cottingham called the acts humiliating and unjust.

“It shouldn't happen to anyone period whether they're from DC or not to be honest,” said Cottingham. “It is inhumane.”

The ALCU agrees and added that police lacked a warrant, reasonable suspicion or probable cause to treat Cottingham the way they did.

““This shocking and unjustified invasion of Mr. Cottingham’s privacy was a violation of his constitutional rights and basic dignity,” said Scott Michelman, ACLU-DC Senior Staff Attorney, who is representing Cottingham. “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.”

D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department was not named in the lawsuit. In June, Police Chief Peter Newsham addressed the incident with Cottingham when he went before the District Council. He told councilmembers that it appeared Cottingham was touched inappropriately and that Lojacono had been disciplined for his conduct.