The New York Police Department (NYPD) allegedly roughed up 15-year-old honor student Brittany Rowley in a case of mistaken identity, the New York Daily News reports.
Brittany and her friend were in the same location where two teens fitting their description–two female black teens, dark hair, one had a ponytail–were caught on camera stealing from a clothing store in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope on Friday.
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Brittany says she and her friend were walking down a busy avenue when two men–who were actually plainclothes police officers–allegedly said “get them.” (The Daily News reports the cops as saying, “Excuse me ladies,” with their badges out)
The officers were Sgt. Jonathan Catanzaro and Officer Stephen Nakao of the 78th Precinct.
Brittany says she and her friend did not know the two men were cops and felt that they were being set up to be kidnapped. The 15-year-old teen says she and her friend both ran, but the cop caught her. Brittany claims that the cop slammed her to the ground and threw his keys at her.
Here is what Brittany says happened next and the poor justification the NYPD gave for the cops behavior:
Catanzaro tackled Rowley and threw her to the ground. He threw his keys, she said, hitting her leg. She recalled him saying, “Why did you f—— run? I should punch you.”
She claims Catanzaro yanked her up, whipsawing her neck. She says police also snapped on cuffs, causing bruises. Her friend returned and was collared too.
An NYPD official insists the incident was good police work, noting that Catanzaro obtained surveillance tape from the clothing boutique that exonerated Rowley, even after the store manager identified her as the suspect.
Brittany was handcuffed to a bench in a police stationhouse for three hours before the cops realized she nor her friend were not the black, shoplifting teens they suspected that they were. They were released, but Brittany says it was the worst experience she’s ever endured.
“It was terrifying,” Rowley, 15, said in an exclusive interview to The Daily News. “It is the most horrible thing I have ever experienced.”
Brittany’s father, Delmus Rowley, hired an attorney and has filed a $5.5 million lawsuit against the city and Sgt. Jonathan Catanzaro and Officer Stephen Nakao. According to court papers obtained by the Daily News, the suit alleges false arrest and excessive force.
“I feel my daughter was racially profiled,” Rowley said. “They had no proof, just a description of a black young lady with braids,” he added. “It wasn’t necessary to tackle a 15-year-old girl. It was excessive.”
The NYPD has not been a friend of minorities. NewsOne recently reported a case in which a Black NYPD sergeant was caught on tape spewing expletives at young, Black males for apparently no reason. Before that, we reported on the NYPD’s insistence that “Stop And Frisk” is a great program, while being tone deaf to the concerns of the city’s minority population that the program’s tactics are particularly aggressive. But, no matter how many Brittany’s are roughed up after being falsely accused of crimes, the NYPD will find a way to rationalize it as “good police work.”
It is a very perplexing issue that detracts attention from the good, honest officers in the NYPD. Just the other day during a casual walk in South Bronx, I entered a bodega (New York talk for a corner store) and saw the store owner, who is Black, taking down the contact information of a cop who had stepped in for a cup of coffee. Indeed, the neighborhood is a very high crime location and no one is safe from the criminals who often pray on hard-working citizens trying to make an honest buck.
This Black owner actually appreciated the cop’s willingness to give his cellphone number to call in case he has problems with youths who have been committing crimes recently. I see the same interactions between officers and Black property owners in other neighborhoods where crime is an issue.
This is the way it always should be. Officers and citizens working together.
NYPD police officers, in my view, are fine law enforcement professionals–especially those who understand the importance of developing relationships with locals on their beats.
But, as long as there are 15-year-old Brittanys who are flung to the ground by grown men with guns, New York’s minority community will never fully appreciate the “good police work” that the Black store owner experienced and the rest of our community truly needs.