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Student alleges UAPD racial attack

By Liz Dailey
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 15, 1999
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The April 15 article "Student alleges UAPD racial attack" incorrectly stated the activities of officers Jason Dehmer and Joseph Mayerle. The officers drove witnesses by the Taco Bell at East Speedway Boulevard and North Campbell Avenue in an attempt to identify a man. The Wildcat regrets the error.

A Nigerian UA graduate student yesterday said he will seek $1 million in damages after an alleged racially-motivated incident in January involving four university police officers.

Nurdeen Lawal, an electrical and computer engineering teaching assistant, filed a complaint alleging he was "treated in a physically rough manner" by University of Arizona police officers.

He is seeking monetary damages from the Arizona Board of Regents, the University of Arizona, UAPD and the four officers on the grounds that his civil and constitutional rights were violated. UAPD spokesman Sgt. Mike Smith declined comment yesterday.

The claim states that UAPD officers wrongfully identified Lawal as a suspect in a campus robbery and detained him at a local Taco Bell restaurant for more than two hours while questioning him and searching his car.

Officer Floyd Mallory allegedly "used the full force of his body" to throw Lawal "face-first" into the wall and pulled him up with his arms while handcuffing him, the claim states.

The complaint also states that Lawal "heard a loud 'pop' from his shoulder area" as Mallory allegedly pulled him to his feet.

"They could see in my face - 'please stop humiliating me,'" Lawal said in an interview yesterday.

According to the complaint, police failed to read Lawal his Miranda Rights before questioning him. Lawal sought legal assistance from attorney Paul Gattone.

"I was outraged when he told me the facts," said Gattone, an attorney at the Southern Arizona People's Law Center. "He didn't even look like the alleged suspect. The only thing that was the same was the color of his skin."

UA attorney Michael Proctor and Howard Boice, public relations for Arizona Bureau of Risk Management, both said they have not yet received copies of the claim.

The Jan. 14 incident began at 2:45 p.m. when police received a call that a theft suspect was spotted in the UA Architecture Building, 1040 N. Olive Road.

Two students at the building described the suspect as a Latino male wearing a green sleeveless sweater, a white undershirt, blue jeans and a blue baseball cap.

Lawal, who is black, was wearing a pair of light green corduroy pants, a button-down shirt and a brown sports jacket the day of the incident, the complaint states.

Lawal stated in the complaint that he stopped in the UA Electrical and Computer Engineering Building, 1230 E. Speedway Blvd., to check his mail at about 3 p.m.

He left campus heading east on East Speedway Boulevard to mail his Ph.D. applications at the United States Post Office Sun Station, 2100 E. Speedway Blvd.

Officers followed Lawal until he stopped at the Taco Bell on Speedway and North Campbell Avenue to use the restroom. Police reports stated Lawal was pulled over for driving erratically through traffic.

"It appeared as if the vehicle was fleeing from me based on his extremely erratic lane changes in front of other moving vehicles," UAPD officer Brad Lichty stated in his report.

Lichty reportedly told Lawal to stop several times as he walked toward Taco Bell, but he "looked at me and smiled."

"I advised him to get up against the wall - he again smiled," Lichty's report stated. "He eventually complied after several commands. The male was handcuffed and detained until other officers arrived."

Two more officers, Jason Dehmer and Joseph Mayerle, then arrived at the Taco Bell.

But Lawal's claim alleged that officers conducted more than a routine traffic stop by handcuffing him as he entered the restaurant.

"Upon entering the restaurant, claimant (Lawal) was grabbed, without warning, by the wrists by a university police officer, Lichty, and was roughly handcuffed," the claim states.

According to Lawal's claim, he suffered a shoulder injury, which was later diagnosed to be a ruptured glenoid labrum.

"I'm probably going to need surgery," Lawal said yesterday.

The claim indicates that Lawal has been receiving physical therapy for the shoulder injury. Lawal also states he had to seek psychological counseling in order to deal with the impact of his "treatment by the officers."

"The whole process was just completely unprofessional," Lawal said. "It's totally changing my life."

While at the Taco Bell, police searched Lawal's pockets and his car, according to the claim, and found an Islamic Studies book in the 1990 Volvo.

"This discovery prompted Officer Mallory to ask claimant (Lawal) if he 'had a hand grenade on him,'" the legal claim states.

UAPD reports did not include documentation of the car search, inspecting Lawal or the discovery of the book. The officers stated that Lawal had an expired Washington D.C. driver's license and Pennsylvania license plates. Lawal did not respond when asked who owned the car.

According to Gattone, Lawal did not answer Mallory's questions because "he had been mistreated and didn't want to talk anymore."

Officers impounded the Volvo when Lawal refused to speak, and the Pennsylvania license plate was confiscated because officers believed the plates were fictitious, police reports stated.

"They weren't false plates," Gattone said, adding that the plates were registered in Lawal's uncle's name. "They were just out of state."

Lawal's legal complaint states he was handcuffed "the entire time he was held by the officers," as witnesses from the Architecture Building were driven past the restaurant to identify the suspect.

UAPD's report states "Lawal was standing without handcuffs," when police drove the three witnesses past the Taco Bell to identify him.

The three witnesses told police Lawal was not the man they had seen in the Architecture Building.

"I saw the guy that was in here (the Architecture Building)," a witness said last night. "He was not black. That guy (Lawal) was black. It was obvious it wasn't him."

Lawal was taken to UAPD headquarters where police fingerprinted and photographed him. According to the claim, "officers posed for pictures with him in a manner that treated the incident as if it were a joke."

Police arrested Lawal on suspicion of reckless driving, displaying fictitious plates and not having a current driver's license. The charges are still pending in Pima County Court.

"They (UAPD officers) were trying to cover their illegal activity" by citing Lawal with the three violations, Gattone said.