WASHINGTON – M.B. Cottingham, the 40-year-old District resident who was subjected to an unconstitutional and exceedingly invasive bodily search by Metropolitan Police Department officer Sean Lojacono in September 2017, has agreed to settle his lawsuit against the officer for an undisclosed amount.
Under the terms of the settlement, the District of Columbia will pay Cottingham a monetary settlement to dismiss the case, but admits no wrongdoing. After the ACLU-DC sued on Cottingham’s behalf in July, MPD announced in September that it had begun the process of firing Officer Lojacono; he is currently challenging his planned termination and remains on administrative duty in the Second District.
“The most important thing to me is that Officer Lojacono can’t do this to anyone else,” said Cottingham. “I filed this lawsuit because I want policing in D.C. to change. By firing Officer Lojacono and by settling the case for an amount that shows respect for the humiliation I suffered, MPD has sent an important message to its officers that they must treat everyone with respect. I hope MPD is committed to enforcing that principle.”
The incident, which was caught on video, shows Officer Lojacono searching Cottingham's groin area through his sweatpants. During the search, Lojacono jammed his fingers into Cottingham’s buttocks, stuck his thumb in his anus, and grabbed his scrotum, in what should have been just a quick pat-down for weapons. After Cottingham flinched and verbally protested, Officer Lojacono handcuffed him and proceeded to repeat the intrusive search in the same manner and area for several more seconds a second, and then a third time. The lawsuit charged Officer Lojacono of violating Cottingham’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. Although the lawsuit named only Officer Lojacono as a defendant, the District of Columbia government stepped in to pay the settlement.
“Although the District did not admit responsibility, its actions to fire the defendant police officer – an unusual step – and to settle the case for a substantial amount speak louder than words,” said Scott Michelman, Legal Co-Director, ACLU-DC. “The fact that the settlement was reached on the eve of the District’s deadline to disclose information about Officer Lojacono’s extensive disciplinary history suggests MPD officials were worried what the documents would show regarding how long they ignored or tolerated his problematic behavior. We hope police officials learn they need to be proactive in disciplining officers who fail to respect community members’ dignity and constitutional rights.”
The discovery requests pending when the case settled demanded information about more than 20 specific internal investigations involving Officer Lojacono, which the ACLU-DC had identified based on publicly filed documents in a number of criminal cases in which Officer Lojacono was involved as a prospective witness.
“The ACLU-DC is grateful to Mr. Cottingham for his willingness to come forward and stand up for his rights to draw attention to this kind of abusive treatment by MPD,” added Michelman. “We will continue to seek accountability both for individual victims of police misconduct and systemwide.”
A video of the search of Mr. Cottingham is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXILS80IyyU
You can listen to Mr. Cottingham describe the search in his own words here: https://www.acludc.org/en/cases/cottingham-v-lojacono
The case, Cottingham v. Lojacono, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
This release can be found here: https://www.acludc.org/en/news/aclu-dc-settles-case-against-dc-police-officer-anal-search-during-stop-and-frisk