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Cops in NYPD Trial Accused of Harassing Bronx Kids Over ‘Frozen’ Bookbag

A Disney “Frozen”-themed backpack like this one led to teenage Bronx brothers being allegedly accosted by plainclothes cops.
A Disney “Frozen”-themed backpack like this one led to teenage Bronx brothers being allegedly accosted by plainclothes cops. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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Shaiquan W. and his little brother Keith W. had a simple errand to run for their mother on Aug. 11, 2017: Go to their South Bronx home to get a “Frozen”-themed backpack filled with diapers and food, then return to the home of a nearby relative.

The routine task should have taken the duo, then 16 and 13, about 30 minutes.

Instead, the brothers’ unexpectedly long night is now the crux of a federal civil rights suit and a case that unfolded during an NYPD trial Thursday.

In their complaints and testimony this month at the police administrative trial, the teens and their family alleged that a group of plainclothes police officers stopped the brothers en route.

The cops, working under the supervision of Lt. Lamont Gibson, then a sergeant, allegedly falsely — and forcefully — arrested the siblings.

During the stop, the teens said, Officer Nicholas Rios stomped on Shaiquan’s chest and back.

A Rare Trial

The incident led to one of a fairly slim number of complaints to the Civilian Complaint Review Board in which allegations are not only substantiated but charges are recommended by the panel.

Fewer than 20% of CCRB complaints investigated in 2018 had at least one allegation substantiated, according to the most recent agency reports.

Of those, the CCRB advised charges against less than a quarter of the officers against whom an allegation was substantiated.

The penalty suggested by the CCRB in the case is the loss of 15 days of vacation time for each officer. But because of the controversial privacy law governing NYPD personnel records, the judge’s decision in the trial will be confidential — meaning the public may never know Gibson and Rios’ fates.

One Police Plaza, NYPD headquarters in lower Manhattan, where administrative trials are held
One Police Plaza, NYPD headquarters in lower Manhattan, where administrative trials are held Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

If the NYPD Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Trials Jeff Adler, who is judging the case, finds the cops guilty, then a review of their employment records will be conducted, he said. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea can then reject or uphold the verdict and penalty.

The brothers’ federal civil rights suit is on hold, pending the outcome of the NYPD trial.

Scared by the Police

The brothers testified that the incident unfolded around 9 p.m. on that summer evening as they walked near Melrose Avenue and East 165th Street, Disney backpack in tow.

“We actually starting roasting each other,” Shaiquan said.

“What-ing each other?” asked Adler.

“It’s a term for like, we was joking around with each other,” Shaiquan replied.

Then an unmarked car with tinted windows pulled up and a group of men got out, he said.

The boys took off running, not knowing who was behind them on the dark street, they testified.

“A couple of days before I had watched the news about some dudes jumping out on some guy in a car, beating him up, and then just taking off,” Shaiquan, now 19, said in court on Jan. 16. “I wanted to make sure I got me and my brother to our destination safely.”

When the men got to Shaiquan, cornering him with the car, one slammed him onto the ground and someone stomped on his chest and back, he testified.

The boys were cuffed. But when the officers checked the backpack — and found diapers and some food — they released them, he said.

Complaining of pain, both boys went to Lincoln Hospital the following day, the CCRB’s prosecuting attorney, Jeannie Elie, told the court.

‘A Heavy, Droopy Object’

In testimony on Thursday, Gibson and Rios disputed the teens’ account.

Gibson said he decided to stop the pair because he thought he saw a “heavy” object in the bag, which might have been a firearm, and because he thought he observed a drug sale.

He contends the officers identified themselves to the brothers, and wore their badges around their necks.

“We had a homicide approximately two days prior to that,” Gibson testified Thursday, saying officers suspected youth gangs might be involved.

“What drew my attention to them was the hand movements, which indicated what could possibly be a drug transaction amongst them,” he said. “They was touching each other hands and going back in [their] pockets. So that caught my attention.”

“As I kept observing them, one of the individuals had a backpack on, which had a heavy, droopy object in the middle of the bag,” said Gibson, who has been with the NYPD for 13 years.

“For all you know it could have been a book,” Elie later told him.

A ‘Forcible Takedown’

Rios also insisted in court on Thursday that he did not brutalize Shaiquan.

“I did not stomp on him,” Rios, who has been a police officer since 2013, testified. He said he saw Shaiquan fall, but that he did not push or slam the teen to the ground.

An Aug. 12, 2017, report filled out by Gibson and entered into evidence in court indicated that a “forcible takedown” was used during the incident. Neither officer disputed that report in court.

Later that evening, the boys’ mother took them to Police Service Area 7, where the accused officers were assigned to a so-called anti-crime team, to file a complaint.

“My kids deserve justice,” their mother, Mortia W., testified on Jan. 16. “They were young at the time, they’re frail. I could see them sitting there on the sidewalk handcuffed and one of the officers stepping on him. They’re little. It hurt.”

A spokesperson for the CCRB declined to comment on the case.

Previous Complaints

Though police disciplinary records are sealed, court filings indicate that the two officers named in the case have been accused of misconduct during at least four stops in the past.

In one March 2017 incident, Gibson, then still a sergeant, and two other officers were accused of stopping a man walking in the South Bronx on a Friday around midnight — and one “grabbed at” his genitals, according to the complaint. Later, an officer allegedly pulled his pants down, “almost to his knees.”

The man “was never told why he was stopped or searched,” and was later released at the scene, the complaint read.

The man’s attorney told THE CITY his client was stopped for crossing the street.

“Their story is that the two men were jaywalking in The Bronx around midnight and obstructing traffic,” said lawyer Jay Goldberg.

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