A retired Nassau County correction officer filed a federal lawsuit Thursday claiming Garden City and its police department violated his civil rights after village officers mistook the Mineola man for a shoplifter and verbally and physically assaulted him.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court Eastern District by Ronald Lanier, 53, alleges the two white Garden City police officers racially profiled the 22-year veteran jail guard in a confrontation late last year inside a Mineola supermarket.
At a news conference Thursday in the Hempstead office of his attorney, Frederick Brewington, Lanier said officers George Byrd and John Russell came up from behind and threw him to the ground near the deli counter of the Western Beef supermarket on Second Street. The lawsuit also says that before knocking Lanier to the ground, the officers had ordered him to put his hands behind his back.
“They whispered in my ear and said, ‘You want to be a tough guy?’” Lanier said of the officers’ actions Nov. 30 after they pinned him to the ground.
“They started beating me on both sides of my ribs,” Lanier said as he struggled to control his emotions.
Brewington said the officers were looking for an African-American man who had allegedly shoplifted a purse from a Garden City store before running into Western Beef. The pursuing officers then saw Lanier near the deli counter, Brewington said.
“We know on that day that had Mr. Lanier been a white man, he never would have been grabbed,” Brewington said. “They grabbed the first black man that they saw and assumed he was a criminal.”
The lawsuit seeks at least $40 million in damages and names as defendants, the Village of Garden City, its police department, Byrd, Russell and two other officers.
An attorney for the village, Andrew Preston, did not return a call for comment. The Garden City Police Benevolent Association, the department’s union, could not be reached. It was not clear Thursday if Byrd, Russell or the other officers have hired personal defense attorneys.
The encounter between Lanier and the officers led to a protest outside the market a week later where he and nearly 150 other demonstrators demanded the Garden City Police Department fire the cops and improve officer training. Brewington had also previously demanded the names of the accused officers.
Village police officials said at the time they would only release the officers’ names after the Nassau County district attorney’s office completed its investigation. District Attorney Madeline Singas’ office eventually chose not to file charges against Byrd and Russell.
“That doesn’t mean civil rights weren’t violated,” Brewington said Thursday.
At a news conference shortly after the attack, Lanier said he was shopping for cooking oil when the officers approached him.
Lanier said he complied, asked the officers why they were questioning him and told them, “I am on the job,” — a line used by law enforcement officers to identify themselves to one another.
He told the officers he had done nothing wrong, according to the lawsuit, but Byrd and Russell responded with orders for Lanier to shut up before they verbally and physically assaulted him.
The officers further humiliated Lanier, he said Thursday, by walking him in handcuffs through the store and then holding him in the back of a police car for 20 minutes.
Lanier was released after police found the alleged suspect hiding on the roof of the supermarket. Garden City police have never apologized to him, Lanier said.