Lawsuit Claims County Police Officers Used Excessive Force Against 16-Year-Old Filming Brother’s Arrest with Cellphone
Teen allegedly suffered a concussion and had teeth knocked out in the incident, part of which was reportedly recorded
A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt earlier this month alleges that five Montgomery County police officers assaulted a 16-year-old Silver Spring boy who was trying to film his older brother’s arrest inside his mother’s home.
The boy used his cellphone’s camera to film part of the June 17, 2015, incident at the Silver Spring home, according to his attorney Dennis Corkery, of the nonprofit Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
Corkery told Bethesda Beat Friday he would not release the approximately 10-minute video at this time, but that “it certainly shows parts of what’s going on.” Corkery said the boy dropped the phone during the struggle, but it kept recording audio as the incident unfolded.
The lawsuit names officers Alex Miranda, Travis Boggs, Charles Lieblich, Jamie Roshner and Rory Sugrue. It says they caused “significant injuries” to the 16-year-old who is identified in court documents as “J.A.” Those injuries include “damage to his face, mouth and teeth and visible bleeding from his mouth” as well as a concussion and bruises on his neck and wrist.
Patrick Lacefield, a county spokesman, said in an email Thursday the county is “reviewing the complaint and at present cannot comment.” The lawsuit was first reported Wednesday by The Daily Record.
According to the lawsuit, the incident began when J.A.’s mother, Johana Abrego, called county police around 11:30 p.m. to report an alleged burglary involving Abrego’s older adult son, Joseph Abrego. Corkery said the call resulted from a domestic dispute between the two. Police had responded to previous domestic-related calls involving the mother and son in the past, according to Corkery.
When the officers arrived, they arrested Joseph Abrego in the kitchen, according to the complaint. During the arrest, J.A. began filming with his phone. Officer Miranda then allegedly pushed J.A., causing J.A. to fall on a couch and drop his phone. Other officers then took J.A. off the couch and slammed him to floor, causing his head to hit the floor, and another officer kicked him in the face, knocking out two of his teeth and loosening four others, according to the complaint.
The court documents state police didn’t call for medical assistance and instead put a bag over the boy’s head, secured it with a zip tie and transported him to the 4th District Station in Silver Spring, according to the lawsuit. J.A. was released from custody around 2:30 a.m. June 18.
“The experience of being slammed to the ground, kicked in the mouth and forced to wear a bag over his head humiliated J.A.,” the complaint says.
J.A. was later charged with obstructing and hindering and two counts of second-degree assault. Those charges were dropped by county prosecutors on July 28, 2015, according to the complaint. The lawsuit alleges the charges were filed to “cover up” for the officers’ use of excessive force.
Corkery said the injuries J.A. suffered have kept him from playing soccer, a sport he excelled at. The complaint notes the boy had to “cancel trips to compete in tournaments across the country” with his “elite soccer club.”
After the incident, Johana Abrego filed a complaint about J.A.’s treatment with the police department’s Internal Affairs Division, which found the officers did not commit any administrative violations, according to the lawsuit. However, the lawsuit notes the internal affairs officers did not attempt to obtain the video recorded by J.A., interview key witnesses or gather other information about the incident.
Montgomery County Police Department policy notes that the public has a right to record police officers. That policy was created after photographer Mannie Garcia filed a lawsuit alleging he was assaulted by county officers in Wheaton in 2011. In the suit, Garcia says he was taking photographs about 30 feet away from the officers as they were arresting two men when the officers dragged him to a police car and kicked his feet out from under him, and later took his camera’s video card. Garcia filed a federal lawsuit against the county alleging excessive force in December 2012 and a jury trial is scheduled for February.
Corkery said the incident involving J.A. and the prior incident involving Garcia constitute “a pattern of the Montgomery County Police Department not wanting to be filmed by the public.”
He said the cell phone video will help bolster his case against police.
“There still may be disputes about what precisely happened, but there will be some things they won’t be able to dispute,” Corkery said.