ACLU-DC Sues D.C. Police Officer for Sexually Abusive Search
Officer Molested Subject’s Testicles Multiple Times During Warrantless Search
WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia today filed a lawsuit against Metropolitan Police Department Officer Joshua Wilson for an unconstitutional and exceedingly invasive bodily search of Mbalaminwe Mwimanzi, a 33-year-old male District resident, without a warrant authorizing this search or articulable suspicion that the search would yield contraband, weapons, or evidence.
“They had already searched me twice before and found nothing, so to search me a third time and to humiliate me like that in front of everyone was dehumanizing,” said Mwimanzi, who immigrated from Tanzania as a child.
The incident occurred on January 15, 2019, in the Petworth neighborhood, where Mwimanzi was watching television with friends at a friend’s apartment. At approximately 9 PM, MPD officers broke down the door to execute a search warrant for drugs and drug paraphernalia on the property. The warrant did not authorize searches of the residents or anyone else on the property. Nevertheless, officers ordered everyone in the apartment—seven individuals including Mwimanzi—to put their hands behind the backs and lie face-down on the ground. Everyone was handcuffed, then patted down by officers.
Following this initial search, Officer Terence Sutton Jr. yanked Mwimanzi toward him. When Mwimanzi protested, Officer Sutton told Mwimanzi he had “a bad attitude.” Officer Sutton then referred Mwimanzi to another officer, who searched him again, unzipping his jacket, and looking inside his pockets. Officer Wilson then walked up to Mwimanzi and asked another officer if he had been searched. Although the other officer replied affirmatively, Officer Wilson ordered Mwimanzi to stand and spread his legs. Officer Wilson pressed his hand into Mwimanzi’s buttocks, causing severe pain. He moved to Mwimanzi’s testicles, rubbing and jamming them against his leg, again causing excruciating pain. Mwimanzi screamed in protest. Ofc. Wilson repeated the molestation of his scrotum despite his screams.
No drugs or drug paraphernalia were found in the home or on any of the occupants or party attendees.
MPD officers called an ambulance after Mwimanzi repeatedly complained of severe pain in his testicles and anus following Wilson’s search. An ambulance took Mwimanzi to Medstar Washington Hospital Center, where he received treatment. He continued to have pain in his groin area for months following the event, and has suffered emotional trauma, including anxiety, anger, depression, and obtrusive thoughts that have negatively affected his work and training at a vocational school.
This is the fourth lawsuit the ACLU-DC has brought in recent years that involves an individual MPD officer conducting a sexually invasive search. The first, McComb v. Ross, was filed in early 2014 and settled in the spring of 2017 after significant discovery. The second, Horse v. District of Columbia, was filed in June 2017 and alleged improper searches of Inauguration Day protestors after they were detained as part of a mass arrest. That case remains pending. The third, Cottingham v. Lojacano, was filed in July 2018 and settled in December 2018. The defendant in the Cottingham case, Officer Sean Lojacono, was dismissed by MPD following a lengthy disciplinary process. At Officer Lojacono’s disciplinary hearing on March 12, 2019, when reviewing MPD General Orders regarding searches, Ret. Sgt. John Brennan told the panel: “I always told the people that work for me, ‘When you go out on the street, make sure you properly search these guys. Don’t be afraid to go up in the crotch.’”
“Officer Wilson’s search of Mr. Mwimanzi was reprehensible and degrading, and as we now know from our previous cases, it’s far from an isolated incident,” said Michael Perloff, attorney for the ACLU-DC. “This appears to be an all-too-common tactic MPD officers have used against countless individuals, and it must stop now.”
Perloff accompanied Mwimanzi at an in-person viewing of MPD’s body-worn camera footage of the search prior to filing the lawsuit, but in-person viewings do not permit the footage to be copied or released to the public. The ACLU-DC submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for release of the footage in March 2019. MPD has not responded.
Today’s lawsuit, Mwimanzi v. Wilson, asserts that Officer Wilson violated Mwimanzi’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and committed a battery under D.C. law.
The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The complaint can be found here: https://www.acludc.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/1-13-2020_mwimanzi_v_wilson_complaint.pdf
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