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Complaint alleges racial profiling in treatment of Medford teens by police

Two teens were stopped on a tip that they had a gun in the vehicle, which turned out to be false.

Medford City Hall Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff

On a July day last year, a couple of teens were driving through Medford, the city where they’d both graduated from high school.

But the day would end up being unlike any other for Jeremiah Mamousette and Hibaq Warsame.

A complaint filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston claims that as Mamousette drove through the Winthrop Street traffic circle to High Street, he noticed a police cruiser following closely behind. There were other cruisers in the area, and some were making U-turns to follow the vehicle.

After performing a traffic stop, holding them at gunpoint, and searching the vehicle, officers eventually let Mamousette and Warsame go, saying that they’d received an anonymous tip that the pair had a gun in the car, the complaint alleges. One of the officers called the incident “procedure.”

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But for Mamousette and Warsame, who were both 19 at the time, and identify as Black, the incident left them distraught.

“What we see here is a clear escalation of police authority,” Sophia Hall, deputy litigation director at Lawyers for Civil Rights, told Boston.com. She noted that she “can’t reconcile” the need for that many cruisers performing U-turns, and officers pointing their weapons at the two teens.

“The notion here that all of that force was necessary at the onset — it’s contradictory to everything in terms of the concept of de-escalation,” she said.

The incident

On July 8, 2021, Mamousette was driving when the teens noticed the increased police presence, the complaint alleges. He pulled the vehicle over on High Street.

Then, an officer began using a loudspeaker to communicate with the pair, according to the complaint. Mamousette was told to lower his window, get out of the car and walk backwards toward the cruiser. Three or four other officers drew their weapons and pointed them at the teens, the complaint said. After following the directions, Mamousette was handcuffed.

Warsame stayed in the vehicle, and then was told to do the same thing as Mamousette. She, too, was handcuffed, the complaint said.

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One of the officers asked if Mamousette had a gun in the vehicle, to which he replied he didn’t. He asked why he was being held, but the officers wouldn’t say, the complaint said.

“Mr. Mamousett and Ms. Warsame were highly embarrassed to be restrained on the side of a main road in broad daylight in their hometown, where they attended high school,” according to the complaint. “They were easily identifiable to anyone who passed by. At one point, Ms. Warsame asked the officers if she could pull up her hood to cover her face and avoid public embarrassment, but the officer denied her request.”

Hall noted that the incident came just weeks after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer in Minnesota, was put on trial for the murder of George Floyd, a Black man. She noted that after this public murder by police, among others, Mamousette couldn’t help but wonder if the same thing was going to happen to him.

“Am I going to be the next hashtag?” Hall asked. “Am I going to be the next person that the national news is talking about because I’m killed while interacting with police?”

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Warsame described the embarrassment she felt.

“I just remember standing on that public rotary with my face in the sun as each person drove by and seemed to stare,” she said via a press release from LCR. “I begged the officer to let me cover my face and explained that I graduated from Medford High School and am a good kid, but my pleas fell on deaf ears.” 

After about 10 minutes, and the search complete, police let Mamousette and Warsame go, saying that they were responding to an anonymous tip of a gun in the vehicle, and that what happened was “procedure,” according to the complaint.

Police asked the two if perhaps a friend called the tip in as a joke, to which the pair replied no. The police did not apologize, according to the complaint, instead noting that “we take this stuff very seriously.” They then took down their names to file a report, the complaint said.

The complaint

The complaint against Medford police alleges “unreasonable search and seizure” by officers during the incident.

“Moreover, the unprofessional conduct by MPD officers in detaining Mr. Mamousette and Ms. Warsame without explanation, improperly using force, and handcuffing them, raises concerns of racial profiling and stereotyping that violate their right to Equal Protection,” it says.

The complaint asks for a formal apology to both teens, an independent investigation into the incident, compensation to both for emotional and physical malfeasance, a description of steps the department would take so that an incident like this doesn’t happen again, including training for police, and payment for attorneys’ fees.

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The department has already opened an internal affairs investigation, according to Hall. But there isn’t information on whether a report actually exists, she said. The pair of teens had gone to the police department soon after the incident to get information on what happened, but say they were told a report didn’t exist at the time.

There also isn’t more information on the tip that started the incident in the first place, Hall said. The only communication she’s had with Medford police, she said, has been limited to them notifying her of the internal investigation, and a request to speak with her clients.

The city responds

The department did not respond to a request for comment by Boston.com.

Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn did respond with a statement.

“As soon as we received this complaint just a few weeks ago, we immediately initiated an internal investigation that will focus on all aspects of this incident,” she said. “We will remain transparent to the extent possible as this remains an open investigation.

“The Medford Police Department is committed to community policing and fair, equitable policies,” Lungo-Koehn continued. “However, if there is any indication of improper protocol based on race, let me be clear that we will not tolerate these actions and we will hold anyone involved fully accountable. Our policies are in place to keep all safe, to be consistent, and to be fair to all.”

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