NEW YORK, USA, Wednesday June 06, 2012 – Fifteen-year-old Brittany Rowley, a Vincentian honour student at an all-girls Catholic high school in Brooklyn, was heading to the library with a friend when she noticed a vehicle trailing them. What followed was “the most horrible thing I have ever experienced,” according to the injured teenager.
And Brittany’s outraged parents aren’t taking the matter lightly.
Delmus and Wendy Rowley have filed a notice of claim with the City of New York and the New York Police Department (NYPD) for US$5.5 million in a case of mistaken identity.
Mrs. Rowley, née John, was born and lived in Rillan Hill, St Vincent before moving to New York.
The Rowleys, who reside in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, said they have decided to take legal action because two white plainclothes cops last week severely and unnecessarily roughed-up their daughter, claiming she matched the description of a shoplifting suspect in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.
“I feel my daughter was racially profiled,” Delmus Rowley told reporters. “They had no proof, just a description of a black young lady with braids.
“It wasn’t necessary to tackle a 15-year-old girl,” the outraged father added. “It was excessive.”
In court papers, the Rowleys alleged that Sergeant Jonathan Catanzaro and Officer Stephen Nakao of the 78th Precinct in Brooklyn used “excessive force” and “falsely arrested” Brittany, a freshman at St Saviour High School in Park Slope, who was on her way to the library with an unidentified friend when she noticed the vehicle trailing them.
Court documents also indicate that Catanzaro slammed Brittany to the pavement and flung his keys at her.
“It was terrifying,” said Brittany, who suffered whiplash to her neck, and received injuries to her hand and other parts of her body. “It is the most horrible thing I have ever experienced.”
Brittany said that she and her friend thought they were being abducted and began to run, after they saw the unmarked car reversing towards them.
She said they became more apprehensive when she heard a male voice shouting, “Get them!”
The teenager alleged that the sergeant threw her to the ground and yelled: “Why did you f******* run? I should punch you.”
She said they were arrested and released hours later after cops realized they had arrested the wrong suspects.
Police said two black teenage girls had earlier shoplifted shorts and jeans from Rivet, a clothing store a few blocks from the incident. They said the description matched Brittany and her friend.
“It is not a surprise that parents fear more that their children will suffer violence at the hands of the police than from common criminals,” Sanford Rubenstein, the Rowleys lawyer, told reporters, expressing deep concern about heightened racial profiling by the NYPD.
The NYPD was at the centre of controversy recently when a white police officer unlawfully arrested St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ United Nations Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves in the lobby of the building that houses the SVG Mission to the UN in midtown Manhattan.
Critics alleged that Gonsalves’ arrest was also a case of racial profiling. As a diplomat, Gonsalves was entitled to diplomatic immunity under the Geneva Convention.