Barry Saunders

Men win settlement after clash with police on Glenwood South – Saunders

If Brennan Horton and Omeze Nwankwo have an especially merry Christmas, they can thank you, citizens of Raleigh.

More precisely, they can thank the heavy-handed over-reaction of some off-duty city cops moonlighting as security guards in the popular Glenwood South nightclub district. After Horton and Nwankwo hired lawyers, got criminal charges dismissed and went to mediation – and presumably, after city lawyers got a whiff of the alarming audio of the arrests – the city decided to cut them a fat check to make the case go away.

Horton and Nwankwo, 28 and 29, respectively, along with hundreds of young people and some old ones longing for their youth, were chilling on Glenwood South one night in July 2014 when a confrontation occurred between a security guard at Noir, a popular spot on the strip, and them.

According to the complaint, Horton was confronted on an outside patio by a security officer who “stepped directly in front of him in a confrontational manner, and told him ‘You need to get out of here.’”

Nwankwo, the complaint said, came over to check on his friend. Then more police officers came over, presumably to check on theirs. Nwankwo, an East Carolina University graduate with a psychology degree, ended up bent over a cruiser with his hands ziptied. Det. R.J. Pike said in court papers that he was initially going to cite Nwankwo for “pedestrian interference” – that’s standing in the middle of the sidewalk, folks – but ended up locking him up for resisting arrest.

Wow, talk about escalation.

Horton, who graduated from UNC-Greensboro with an economics degree and owns a popular food truck, now felt obligated to check on his friend who was getting in trouble for checking on him.

Det. Pike was in uniform, as were the other off-duty officers who arrived. Despite being off-duty and working security, they stillplayed the part of cops, as they called in a paddy wagon to haul the two men away to the hoosegow.

Attorney James C. White said his clients “filed a claim for improper training in the use of these restraints” and a claim alleging that “the city had violated its non-biased policing policy by a pattern of unlawfully targeting African American men who pose no threat and have engaged in no unlawful activity.”

Yes, the city has a written policy on how officers should interact with black and brown men, which it send to me when I asked about the case. The policy is three pages long and it poo-poos stopping someone based solely on race, ethnicity or country of origin. If brothers had had any input into it, the policy would be one sentence long: “Treat us with the same respect that you treat everybody else, dang it.”

Yes, the city has a written policy on how officers should interact with black and brown men, which it send to me when I asked about the case. The policy is three pages long and it poo-poos stopping someone based solely on race, ethnicity or country of origin.

The failure to properly train claim was dismissed because, White said, “quite frankly, the standards for bringing one of those claims against the city is quite high.”

The claim regarding the excessive use of force regarding the hand-restraining zipties couldn’t be so easily dismissed.

Heck, the hard-plastic zipties couldn’t even be easily removed. The pair’s mediation hand was strengthened when, White said, none of the officers admitted in internal affairs interviews to even putting the zipties on Nwankwo.

On a video recorded by Horton before he was arrested, Nwankwo can be seen asking that the restraints at least be loosened.

“Are you guys recording how he’s cuffing me for no reason? I know my rights. I did absolutely nothing wrong! Why are you putting so much pressure on my hands?” Nwankwo asked. “I’m walking! You’re going to break my wrists!”

Turns out the zipties used as restraints on Nwankwo’s wrists damaged ligaments in his thumb and, for days afterward, White said, left his wrists “deep purple.”

Horton said that his cellphone was knocked from his hands as the officer cuffed him, but a Good Cellphone Samaritan deftly slipped it into his back pocket before he was thrust into the paddy wagon.

That’s how he was able to record his friend’s audible agony in the paddy.

Horton said he thinks the key to winning the civil case was his willingness, nay, his ability, “to come to court every month for a year to get the criminal case dropped. A lot of people aren’t able to do that. If we’d settled” for even a lesser criminal charge, he said, “my attorney said we wouldn’t have had a chance in a civil case.”

One can deplore the guard’s and the cops’ obvious mishandling of the situation – there is nothing in the backgrounds or even actions of the two dudes that night that should lead anyone to automatically think they were out rabble-rousing and up to no good – without condemning them as bigots. Cops have an obligation to do their duty, and we damned sure ought to appreciate them for that.

Young people with disposable income, though, have a right to enjoy themselves without being unduly hassled for standing in the middle of a sidewalk and moving when told to do so.

While the city is working on its policy of police interactions with minorities, it might also want to tighten up its moonlighting policy and decide if, for instance, off-duty cops working for a private company should be able to operate under color of authority in police blues?

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9