A D.C. man feels like a police officer sexually assaulted him during a search recorded by a friend’s cellphone on the man’s 39th birthday.
The American Civil Liberties Union of D.C. filed a lawsuit against the officer Wednesday, accusing him of “an unconstitutional and exceeding invasive” search “without a warrant, reasonable suspicion or probable cause.”
M.B. Cottingham said he was hanging out with friends in front of his aunt’s house in southwest D.C. the afternoon of Sept. 27 when police stopped to question them.
When officers asked if they had any weapons, they said they did not, according to the lawsuit.
When asked about a bulge in his sock, Cottingham presented a legal amount of marijuana, according to the lawsuit. He then asked if police wanted him to do the “hokey pokey,” street slang for turning around and holding one’s shirt up to show they aren’t armed.
Officer Sean Lojacono had him turn around and started to search him. The lawsuit says Lojacono then touched Cottingham’s butt and genitals.
Cellphone video shows the officer touching his butt and crotch.
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“You just stuck your finger in my a--,” Cottingham is heard saying on the video. “Yeah, don’t do that. He stuck his finger in my crack. Man, don’t do that, man.”
The officer then cuffed Cottingham behind his back, had him spread his legs and resumed searching.
Cottingham reacted again and said, “Stop fingering me, bro.”
“I’m outside your pants, bro,” the officer said. “Relax.”
Cottingham later is heard saying the officer was trying to emasculate him.
When the search was over, the officer uncuffed Cottingham, police poured out an open bottle of alcohol and left the area.
“I was sexually assaulted by the officer, in my opinion,” Cottingham told News4.
He said the officer made the encounter more traumatic with what he said over his loudspeaker as he drove away.
“How you all doing WorldStar?” he’s heard saying on the video. “How you all doing WorldStar?”
That references WorldStarHipHip.com, a video aggregating blog where people post videos including fights and police encounters. Cottingham said he took it as a threat.
“I think it’s emblematic of a larger problem with policing culture here in the District where MPD treats members of the community — and particularly African-American members of the community — presumptively as suspects,” said Scott Michelman, the ACLU-DC senior staff attorney representing Cottingham.
Police Chief Peter Newsham was asked about the officer’s actions at a D.C. Council hearing last week
“I have seen the video,” he said. “I haven’t seen that kind of detail that you’re explaining. It looked like it was an inappropriate touching by the officer.”
Lojacono has been with the Metropolitan Police Department for four years and is on full duty status.
“He’s been removed from that particular unit, and he has been disciplined for that matter,” Newsham said at last week’s hearing.
For Cottingham, discipline is insufficient.
“I would like to have him fired, to be honest,” he said. “He shouldn’t be an officer on the force if he doesn’t know how to deal with and address the public.”
“Due to pending litigation, we are unable to comment at this time,” D.C. police spokesman Dustin Sternback said in a statement.
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office also declined to comment.
“It’s humiliating,” Cottingham said. “It’s something that I relive over and over. It happened on my birthday, so it’s a memory that I’ll never forget.”