A Black dentist in Manhattan is suing the City of New York for $5 million after claiming he was racially profiled by NYPD cops who allegedly accused him of breaking into his own office while he was working late.
According to the New York Post, the incident occurred on March 9 when Dr. Benjamin Shirley was taking out trash from his office around midnight. Video camera footage shows officers outside his office shinning their torchlights to check what’s going on inside, with the notice of claim alleging the officers demanded Shirley show his identification.
Shirley’s lawyer, Reza Rezvani, told the news outlet that though his client informed officers he was the owner of the building, the officers – via intercom – allegedly threatened to break in if he did not comply with their orders.
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Per the notice of claim, the two officers in the video allegedly “attempted to unlawfully gain entry to the building by force and repeatedly called [Shirley] threatening to destroy his property and enter with force if he did not come outside despite the fact that at all times, they lacked any probable cause or reasonable belief that [Shirley] had committed any crime.”
The claim accused the officers of negligence, false arrest, unlawful detainment, illegal search and seizure and trespass.
“They were threatening to break in, they were threatening to break down the security equipment, they were threatening to break down the door and go inside,” Rezvani told The Post.
The claim also alleged the encounter left Shirley fearing for his life, leaving him to call 911. “I’m actually being harassed by the cops here,” he said in the call obtained by the news outlet. “I’m pretty scared here. I’m working in my office and they shine the flashlight in my face.”
“I’m trying to ask them why they are bothering me, and he said he saw me walking in here,” Shirley said. “They are asking me for my ID and I’m not doing anything … I don’t know if it’s because I’m African American.”
Rezvani added: “Imagine how terrifying it is to have to call the police on the police and then to be met with no help. It’s the definition of helplessness.”
Shirley eventually went to his door and showed his identification after two more officers later reported to the scene. The claim, however, alleges that despite his office address being listed on his identification, he had to show it to the officers several times before they left.
“Despite the fact that [Shirley’s] state-issued identification lists the address of the location of incident, [Shirley] was forced to provide his identification to [the police officers] multiple times before they would agree to leave,” it said.
His lawyer also added Shirley, who usually closed late, initially refused to cooperate with the officers because he was afraid. “It’s midnight, he’s black, they are shining flashlights inside — that’s how you set up all kinds of bad things happening, Rezvani told The Post. “To casually walk out, it’s not possible in that scenario.”
Rezvani added: “What happened to him is common and it shouldn’t be. The idea that this could happen to a man going to his office because of his skin color is outrageous.”
Responding to the notice of claim, a spokesman for the NYPD said “we will review the lawsuit if and when it is filed.”