Cindy M. O'Pharrow talks to the press in July 2021.

Cindy M. O'Pharrow talks to the press in July 2021. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Suffolk County police assaulted a woman who tried to assist a gunshot victim at a Dix Hills graduation party in June 2021 because she is African American, a federal civil lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of New York alleges. 

The lawsuit, which names Suffolk County, its police department and several unnamed officers as defendants, was filed by Cindy M. O’Pharrow, the president of Cops N’ Kids Long Island, a nonprofit that pairs cops as mentors to kids. She is also the wife of an NYPD detective. 

O’Pharrow’s complaint, which seeks at least $50 million in damages and an additional $10 million in punitive damages, alleges that the officers violated her civil rights and left her with neck, shoulder and emotional injuries during an encounter a year ago. The lawsuit was filed June 27.

“Had plaintiff not been an African-American woman, and been a Caucasian woman, she would not have been subjected to the force used against her,” the lawsuit alleged. All of the individual defendants are white, the lawsuit said. 

In an email, Frederick K. Brewington, the Hempstead civil rights attorney representing O’Pharrow in the lawsuit said Wednesday: “The fact that officers thought they could use abusive language and exert force when a few words and a request would have served them just as well needs to be examined. Mrs. O’Pharrow, who is very supportive of police officers, should never have been mistreated as she was. This is especially true when all she wanted to do was help. Justice must be the ultimate goal.”

County and police department representatives declined to discuss the lawsuit, saying they can’t comment on pending litigation. 

Suffolk police immediately launched an internal affairs investigation after the incident and preliminary results found O’Pharrow’s allegations to be false, County Executive Steve Bellone said during a July 2021 news conference. Officials reached that conclusion based in part on a fire department dashboard camera video that was played for reporters at the news conference. 

The lawsuit alleges that O’Pharrow was a guest at the Seamens Neck Road home of a friend who hosted a graduation party in June 2021 for their son and daughter. The party was breaking up shortly after midnight when a 20-year-old West Babylon man was shot. 

O'Pharrow rendered aid to the victim, who asked her to contact his mother, the lawsuit said. O’Pharrow promised the mother, who was out of the country, via FaceTime that she would stay with the victim until he was taken to the hospital. 

O’Pharrow entered an ambulance after the victim was loaded inside and was prepared to ride with the young man when a Suffolk cop, according to the complaint, told her to “get the hell out.” 

Image from video surveillance of an alleged incident involving Cindy M....

Image from video surveillance of an alleged incident involving Cindy M. O'Pharrow and Suffolk police officer in July 2021. Credit: SCPD

That officer grabbed O’Pharrow by the left bicep and wrist and yanked her out of a seat in the ambulance with extreme force, the complaint states. The officer and a second cop then carried O’Pharrow from the ambulance before setting her on the ground, according to the complaint. 

Former Acting Commissioner Stuart Cameron said at last year’s news conference that police had to act in order to get the victim, who was released from the hospital not long after the shooting, to the hospital. Fire department policy prohibited civilians who are not receiving treatment from riding in ambulances, Cameron said at the time. 

Several witnesses told police they heard fire officials tell O’Pharrow not to enter the ambulance. A man who Cameron described as the victim’s cousin could be seen standing outside the ambulance saying repeatedly, "Just get out so they can leave."


 

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