An excessive force lawsuit filed against Montgomery County alleges police officers retaliated against a Silver Spring minor who was legally filming his adult brother’s arrest on a cellphone by assaulting the 16-year-old without cause.
Plaintiffs Johana Abrego and her son, who is identified as “J.A.,” claim a county officer pinned J.A. down and another officer slammed him to the ground after they saw the teenager recording Joseph Abrego’s arrest in his mother’s home. Officers then began to “physically batter” J.A., kicking him in the face and mouth and causing “significant injuries,” according to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt on Friday.
“Defendant Officers did not call for medical attention, nor allow J.A. to sit up in order to clear the blood from his mouth,” the complaint states. “Instead, Defendant Officers questioned J.A. while he lay handcuffed and visibly suffering from injury, then arrested him and transported him to the Montgomery County Police Department.”
“It’s an important case because it involves a teenager who should never have faced this type of issue with the police,” said Dennis A. Corkery of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “The police were in his home to deal with his brother, and he was obviously upset, but he was doing nothing to obstruct what they were doing.”
Patrick Lacefield, a Montgomery County spokesman, said Wednesday that the county has not yet seen the lawsuit.
On June 17, 2015, Johana Abrego called 911 to report an alleged burglary involving Joseph Abrego, the suit states. Montgomery County police officers — including at least one of the named defendants, officers Alex Miranda, Travis Boggs, Charles Lieblich and Rory Sugrue — had previously been dispatched to the Abrego home and were familiar with the family, the suit states.
When the officers arrived, they walked past J.A. in the family’s living room to confront and arrest Joseph Abrego in the kitchen, according to the complaint. During the arrest, which J.A. recorded on his cellphone from the living room, Joseph Abrego sustained cuts and bruising on his face, according to the complaint.
J.A. did not have a weapon and did not threaten the officers, according to the complaint, but as the officers escorted Abrego out of the house in handcuffs, Miranda shoved J.A. into the couch, causing J.A. to fall and drop his phone, according to the complaint.
Miranda then grabbed J.A.’s arms and pinned him to a seated position on the couch, the suit states. Another officer tackled J.A., causing his head to hit the ground, and Boggs handcuffed him. Several seconds later, an officer kicked J.A. in the face and mouth.
The officers did not allow J.A. to sit up or clear the blood from his mouth, but instead arrested him and transported him to a police station after putting a bag over his head and zip-tying it in place, the suit alleges.
J.A. was charged with multiple crimes — all of which were dropped the following month — to cover up the excessive force the officers used to “subdue, humiliate and injure” him, the suit states. He suffered two broken teeth, which needed significant dental work to repair, as well as a concussion and other injuries that required him to give up a promising soccer career, the suit states.
The suit claims the county police department has demonstrated a pattern of indifference to officers’ misconduct, as evidenced by the “perfunctory and inadequate” investigation the internal affairs department conducted after Johana Abrego filed a complaint. The department did not interview witnesses, such as Joseph Abrego or another child who was present during the incident, before clearing the officers, the suit states.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and alleges excessive force, unlawful arrest, violations of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and violations of the First Amendment right to record police officers performing their public duties.
The case is J.A. and Johana Abrego v. Alex Miranda et al., 8:16-cv-03953-PX.