A now-retired Secret Service agent can proceed with his lawsuit claiming two U.S. Park Police officers arrested and held him at gunpoint because he is black, a federal judge ruled.
Nathaniel Hicks alleges in the suit that he was in his Secret Service-issued vehicle on the shoulder of a Maryland highway waiting to join Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s motorcade when he was arrested by the Park Police officers in July 2015.
According to the suit, Park Police Officer Gerald L. Ferreyra approached Hicks’ vehicle, “drew his gun, pointed the weapons at Special Agent Hicks, and began screaming at him.”
Hicks said he explained what he was doing and showed his credentials to Ferreyra, who kept his gun pointed at the agent, whose car had a police antenna and a flashing bar.
The lawsuit alleges Ferreyra called for backup anyway, and Park Police Officer Brian Philips arrived. For more than an hour, according to the suit, the officers detained Hicks, and Ferreyra yelled and “spoke to him in a degrading manner.”
Meanwhile the motorcade passed, and one of the officers “mockingly waved his hand goodbye at the motorcade as it passed.”
After a supervisor arrived, Hicks was finally released but he was not able to reach the motorcade. According to the suit, Phillips then pulled over Hicks again and demanded his identification and car registration “despite just having had possession of these documents, and continued to talk to him in a demeaning and degrading tone with no possible justification.”
Hicks was eventually let go.
The officers, who dispute Hicks’ versions of events, asked a judge to dismiss the case against them, arguing immunity because they acted in a reasonably lawful way and did not violate Hicks’ rights.
Hicks’ attorneys disagree, saying the officers had “discriminatory motives,” partly based on their hostility toward Hicks.
“Based on upon the absence of probable cause, or even any reasonable suspicion to justify his prolonged seizure, it appears that Special Agent Hicks was singled out for unlawful treatment because of his race,” the complaint alleges.
In his deposition, Hicks described a tense encounter.
“When there is a gun pointed at you, regardless of what time it is, whether it’s night or day, you’re not going to forget that,” Hicks said. “In all my years of my position as a law enforcement officer, I never had that happen before.”
U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm declined to dismiss the suit this week, saying the officers did not have a good argument for failing to release Hicks before the motorcade arrived, NBC News reports .
“It is clearly established that detaining a person under these circumstances — when the officers had a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was underway but, after some investigation, became aware that no criminal activity was happening at the scene — is a violation of the individual’s Fourth Amendment rights,” Grimm wrote.
Hicks, who retired shortly after filing the suit, is suing for compensatory and punitive damages, saying he suffered “significant embarrassment, humiliation, emotional distress, and the deprivation of his constitutional rights.”
“In addition to the manner in which defendants spoke to and treated him, it was particularly humiliating to be held on the side of the road as his colleagues passed by. That he was subjected to unlawful treatment because of his race compounds his emotional distress,” Hicks’ lawsuit said.