Civil Rights Ruling In Garden City

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Plaintiff wins $150,000 ruling against department and village

Ronald Lanier (center) sitting between his wife and his lawyer, Frederick Brewington. (Photo by Dave Gil de Rubio)

The Federal District Court recently entered judgment in a civil rights case against the Village of Garden City for their police department’s treatment of Ronald Lanier in which he was falsely arrested while shopping at the Mineola Western Beef location back on Nov. 30, 2016. Lanier’s attorney, Frederick K. Brewington, confirmed that the Village of Garden City and the Garden City Police Department agreed to a judgment against them awarding Lanier $150,000.

The original suit, filed in 2016 in the U.S. District Court Eastern District, originally sought $40 million in damages for physical abuse, wrongful treatment, violation of Lanier’s Constitutional rights, false arrest and abuse.

Brewington’s client, a retired Nassau County correction officer and an African-American, was allegedly verbally and physically abused and assaulted by two Garden City police officers, George Byrd and John Russell. The duo was pursuing an African-American shoplifting suspect who fled to the supermarket from over the Garden City line. The officers allegedly came up behind Lanier, cursed and cuffed him before throwing the Mineola resident to the ground.

“I didn’t know who grabbed me from behind around my neck and extended my right arm towards my shoulder. I turned around and said that I was on the job and asked what these guys were doing,” Lanier explained at a June 2017 press conference. “They told me to shut the eff up and to get on the ground. They handcuffed me and whispered in my ear, ‘Do you want to be a tough guy?’ And they started beating me on both sides around my ribs.”

Officers John Russell (front left) and George Byrd (front right) along with the Village of Garden City and its police department were named in a federal lawsuit by Ronald Lanier for civil rights violations.

After Lanier started yelling out to bystanders to start taking pictures and record what was going on, he was hoisted up and perp-walked to a squad car outside, where he was forced to sit for 20 minutes despite advising the officers that his badge and identification could be found in his car.

Lanier was released after the alleged perpetrator, 49-year-old Rosedale resident Stephen Wilson, was later found and arrested on the supermarket roof after allegedly stealing a pair of designer handbags from the Garden City Lord & Taylor location. Despite showing his credentials reflecting his 23 and a half year career as a Nassau County correction officer, no apology was offered to Lanier and he wound up driving himself to Winthrop-University Hospital. Lanier said despite the x-rays being negative, the Mineola resident was prescribed painkillers and his physical bruising took two to three weeks to subside.

According to court documents, the defendants—which also include the village, the police department and a police department lieutenant—did not admit liability, wrongdoing or damages. In addition to the settlement, the defendants will have to pay Lanier’s legal fees, for which the amount has yet to be determined. Despite the vindication that came with this settlement, Brewington admitted how massive the efforts were to reach this conclusion.

“After attempting to have Garden City realize that there was a serious issue here, this judgment speaks volumes to the fight, which Mr. Lanier has waged for his good name and his well-being,” Brewington said. “The officers willfully and callously manhandled my client. Profiling him because of his race and color is something that they did and it is something with which Garden City must come to grips. When they realized it was the wrong black man, they finally released Mr. Lanier without so much as an apology. Garden City and its police department are being held accountable for their actions. This is just one way of changing unacceptable behavior like racial profiling.”

When asked for a response to the settlement, the village declined to comment on litigation matters. An investigation by the Nassau County district attorney’s office did not lead to charges being filed against Byrd and Russell.

“We take allegations of police misconduct very seriously. The DA’s office comprehensively reviewed the conduct alleged here and found no basis for criminal charges,” said Miriam Sholder, deputy communications director for the Nassau County District Attorney’s office.
Lanier remains shaken up over what happened despite the outcome that came out in his favor.

“It is a shame when you can’t feel comfortable in your own God-given skin. I was just blocks from my own home and was treated with disdain and disrespect because I am a black man and that is just wrong,” he said in a released statement. “This judgment of money must serve as a clear warning bell to Garden City and its police to change. Training must occur to force changes in the biased attitudes and documented racist actions of these officers. Our country and our world cannot afford the type of bias and ignorance displayed by these officers. My over two decades in law enforcement require me to make sure that there is change.”

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