Brittany Rowley never thought she’d end up handcuffed in a police station. The 15-year-old honor student at an all-girls Catholic school said her ordeal with New York’s finest was traumatizing.

“It was terrifying,” she told the New York Daily News. “It is the most horrible thing I have ever experienced.”

The incident began when plainclothes officers in Brooklyn accosted the teen for allegedly matching the description of a shoplifter. After getting the call that two black teen girls, one with a ponytail, were wanted for stealing from a Park Slope clothing store, officers spotted Rowley and her friend walking nearby. Rowley’s braided ponytail apparently tipped them off and they pursued the girls. But that’s where the stories diverge.

The NY Daily News reports:

Rowley said the car suddenly reversed and a male yelled, “Get them!” The cops claim they said, “Excuse me ladies,” with their badges out.

Rowley and her friend ran. “I thought we were being abducted,” Rowley said.

Catanzaro tackled Rowley and threw her to the ground. He threw his keys, she said, hitting her leg. She recalled him saying, “Why did you f—— run? I should punch you.”

She claims Catanzaro yanked her up, whipsawing her neck. She says police also snapped on cuffs, causing bruises. Her friend returned and was collared too.

An NYPD official insists the incident was good police work, noting that Catanzaro obtained surveillance tape from the clothing boutique that exonerated Rowley, even after the store manager identified her as the suspect.

“But for him viewing the videotape, the young lady would still be in custody,” said Inspector Kim Royster, an NYPD spokeswoman.

Rowley spent three hours handcuffed to a bench in the police station, and her father is suing the officers and the department for false arrest and excessive force. He also told reporters he thought his daughter was only stopped because she was black.

“They had no proof, just a description of a black young lady with braids,” he added. “It wasn’t necessary to tackle a 15-year-old girl. It was excessive.”

This incident comes on the heels of a ruling by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin that granted “class action status” to a civil lawsuit claiming New York’s controversial Stop and Frisk laws are discriminatory because they disproportionally affect black and Latino residents. The judge in the case called the NYPD’s attitude “deeply troubling,” opening the door for the lawsuit to proceed.

*Photo via NY Daily News

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  • ruggie

    When I worked in a clothing store years ago, every time a shoplifter was caught, the store would take an instant photo of the shoplifter and tape it to the wall in the employees-only area while the manager and shoplifter quietly waited for police to arrive. It was all done very privately. The wall was plastered with pictures of young white girls, our most frequent shoplifters. If they got away, they got away. We even had repeat offenders. White females do not get chased down the street and thrown to the ground on shoplifting suspicion. That type of treatment by police is reserved for blacks.

  • SoulPatrol

    @edub,

    1. Below is one of the many definitions of racial profiling.

    “Use by law enforcement personnel of an individual’s race or ethnicity as a factor in articulating reasonable suspicion to stop, question or arrest an individual, unless race or ethnicity is part of an identifying description of a specific suspect for a specific crime.”

    By definition, this situation isn’t exactly racial profiling. However, it still wasn’t handled properly on the part of the police. All the police had were two girls fitting a very general description who just happened to be in the same area. This would certainly warrant an inquiry. That should have consisted of an interview conducted in a professional manner. Instead, what they did was a rush to judgement and a race based assumption that these girls must be the guilty parties. I don’t know the race of these cops, but in the NYPD it doesn’t really matter, because some of the black cops are just as bad as some of the white ones. With white cops working in urban areas, here’s the problem. Outside of their jobs, these white cops have zero interaction with people of color. They live in lily white neighborhoods. All of their friends are white. Their kids go to predominately white schools. When your entire life outside of work is devoid of people of color, this creates a warped perspective of reality. Because all of the people they arrest are black or Hispanic, they soon begin to believe that all black or Hispanic people are criminals. I was a black cop working in an area that was over 98% white. In my two and half decades on the job, I can count the black people I arrested on one hand. With that limited exception, all of the criminals I arrested were white. The difference is this. I had plenty of contact with regular white folks who weren’t criminals, so it would be impossible for me to think like that. I saw enough honest, decent, law abiding white people to realize that the criminal element is only a small portion of the total population. We all know it’s no different in our community. You can go into the worse crime ridden neighborhoods and you’ll still find that about 2-5% of the people there are committing 100% of the crime. The rest of the folks are just unfortunate enough to be too poor to move.

    2. I can’t remember ever personally seeing a case of mistaken identity involving African Americans. But that was only because of the small percentage of AAs in that area. However, there have been lots of studies proving that trans-racial identification (black>white & white>black) is notoriously unreliable. As I mentioned earlier, eye witness accounts are inherently flawed. Throw race into the mix, and it gets even worse. For years the general public has been duped into believing there’s no better evidence than the account of an eye witness. In a lot of cases it’s simply not true. It depends on the circumstances. If someone is kidnapped and spends several days in the company of their captor, then that’s the exception. But when someone sees a criminal for a fleeting moment with emotions charged and adrenalin flowing, all of this affects their recollection. Don’t take my word for it. Look it up at the National Registry of Exonerations. Look at the key code: MWID (Mistaken Witness Identification) and read about the cases. You’ll be amazed. I wasn’t, because I already knew this occurs. It just made me angry, knowing innocent people have served a major chunk of their lives in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. Take a guess who’s disproportionately affected by this phenomenon. You guessed it….black folks.

    http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/detaillist.aspx

    • edub

      wow! thank you so much for this information!! absolutely incredible.

  • aedivine

    I’m a 21 year old 5’4 African American women,and if two strange men reversed their car and shouted “get them!” at me and my friend? i don’t give a crap,i’m running for my life too. I think they did the right thing,if those cops came at them like that. There are way to many nutcases running around kidnapping and murdering young girls today. I refuse to be another unpublicized missing black women in America never to be heard from again. I’d rather be handcuffed and taken to the station so I can prove my innocence,than wait around to find out why these two unidentified white men are chasing after me. Better safe than sorry in this country…ESPECIALLY in nyc!