BY MATT BYRNE
Friday July 24, 2020
A Somali refugee says her civil and constitutional rights were violated in the incident at Maine Medical Center, as part of a pattern of over-policing of the city's refugee and African American populations.
A Somali refugee from Portland is suing the city, two police officers and the former police chief over a 2014 incident at Maine Medical Center, alleging that police violated her civil and constitutional rights when she was injured during an illegal arrest, and doctors at the hospital then tied her to a hospital bed, gagged her and medicated her without consent.
The lawsuit Mumina Ali filed in U.S. District Court in Portland on Wednesday says city police officers became frustrated with Ali because of a language barrier, leading one of them to illegally arrest her as she attempted to find her teenage daughter, who was being cared for at the hospital following a separate interaction with police. Ali chipped a tooth and suffered other injuries following the violent and unnecessary arrest that continue to cause her pain today, the suit states. She seeks $750,000 in damages plus other costs and penalties.
More broadly, Ali, who is now a U.S. citizen, says the incident fits a pattern of unconstitutional mistreatment of Somali refugees and Black residents by the city’s police department through systematic over-policing of Black and refugee-populated neighborhoods, leading to a higher proportion of arrests of Black people in the city than their white peers. The suit also alleges that although Ali filed a formal complaint about her treatment, the police never properly investigated it. The city has reopened the investigation, according to social media posts by Ali’s daughter, Hamdia Ahmed, a Portland activist who created an online fundraiser to pay the legal fees associated with investigating her mother’s case.In 2017, Black people accounted for 23 percent of arrests and 26 percent of reported uses of force by police, but made up only 7 percent of the population, the lawsuit alleges. The racial disparity has persisted for years, and mirrors national trends.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” said attorney Thomas Hallett, who represents Ali in the lawsuit. “The Portland Police Department is plagued by the same issues that other police departments are plagued by.”
The lawsuit was filed one day before the expiration of the six-year statute of limitations for such claims. The suit also names officers Jeffrey Druan and Suna Shaw, and former police chief Michael Sauschuck, who led the department until 2018. He is now Maine’s public safety commissioner. Hallett said the claims against the individual officers are distinct from the broader allegations against the city and the former police chief for creating a pattern of unconstitutional policing that disproportionately affects Somalis and other Black residents, a so-called Monel claim that requires a different legal analysis and may prove to be a higher bar to meet.
Ahmed, who has led demonstrations against anti-immigrant policies, systemic racism and police brutality for years, posted on the fundraising page and on her Facebook page that the city agreed to reopen and reinvestigate the alleged excessive force case after Ahmed mounted a campaign asking residents and friends to call, write and email city officials demanding action.
“It took six years to get my mother’s case reopened. Power to the people,” Ahmed wrote on Facebook on June 15, two days before she started the fundraising campaign. “Even though the case was reopened, I will not be celebrating. There is really nothing for me to celebrate about because no one should ever be put in a position like this. I watched my mother experience tremendous pain for the past six years. I never talked about it publicly or shared our story because I was angry about what happened to my own mother. No one should ever have to experience police brutality. Black people deserve to be treated like human beings.”
Ahmed declined to comment and referred questions to Hallett, who declined to comment on the fundraising campaign or Ahmed’s fundraising. But the narrative provided on the fundraising website, entitled “Justice for Mumina A,” matches the date and the narrative of Ali’s claims described in the suit.
A spokeswoman for the city, Jessica Grondin, confirmed the city was in receipt of the lawsuit but she declined to answer questions about the allegations, including whether the internal affairs case has been reopened by police.
According to the complaint, Ali moved to Maine in 2006 as a political refugee fleeing the civil war in Somalia, and spent eight years in a refugee camp in Kenya with her five children. Ali’s eldest daughter, referred in the complaint only by the initials “SA,” continued to suffer from severe post-traumatic stress disorder after the family’s arrival in the United Sates and Maine. When symptoms of SA’s mental health led to a crisis, the family called police on multiple occasions seeking help, the lawsuit alleges.
The allegations of mistreatment center on a July 22, 2014, incident that began with the arrest of SA on unspecified charges. Ali, who at the time spoke and understood little English, relied on another daughter, then 16 years old and referred to only with the initials “HA,” to speak on behalf of the family because HA had the best English language skills. Hallet declined to say whether “HA” is Hamdia Ahmed.
The suit alleges that HA called the Cumberland County Jail and “asked why her sister was once again being harassed by the PPD and that it was making HA think of harming herself,” the lawsuit states.
“Within a very short amount of time HA was handcuffed with hands behind her back and put in a police car by (East Bay Side Community Policing Center) police Officer Jeffrey Druan,” the suit said.
When HA was placed in a police car, she vomited, which led Druan to transport HA to Maine Medical Center. Ali alleges that HA was never asked by Druan what she meant by the threats of self-harm, and that no social worker was present during the interaction.
“Had HA been asked she would have explained that she never intended nor wanted to harm herself, that she had tried but could not get law enforcement’s attention in any other way, and as a 16-year-old trying to save her sister she made the statement as a last resort,” the lawsuit alleges.
Ali, unaware of where HA was taken, walked to the Portland Police Station, the Cumberland County Jail and Mercy Hospital before finding her daughter at Maine Medical Center’s emergency department. At the hospital, Druan, Shaw and a Department of Health and Human Services social worker attempted to get Ali to sign a document, but she refused to sign it without an interpreter who spoke her dialect of Somali, fearing the document would lead to the loss of custody of her daughter, the lawsuit states.
Ali alleges that when she refused to sign the document, officer Shaw became frustrated and told Druan to remove Ali from the hospital. The lawsuit alleges that Druan “aggressively handcuffed (Ali’s) hands behind her back.” Ali suffers from asthma and knee and back problems from previous injuries, and walks slowly. When Druan pushed her to walk faster than she could, her legs gave way beneath her and she fell, the suit states.
“Without the use of her hands to break the fall (Ali) fell forward, chipped one of her teeth and screamed in pain, the suit alleges. Druan then “put both knees on her back, pushed her head into the ground, then began choking her from behind with his arm, and placed a hand over her mouth to muffle her screams as she lay prone on the ground,” the suit alleges.
Ali was then taken back into the Maine Medical Center emergency department while still in handcuffs, placed facedown on a table in a five-point restraint system, and was “effectively ‘hogtied,'” the suit alleges. The suit states that Ali was yelling inside the hospital, and was then involuntarily injected with anti-psychotic medications Haldol and Ativan until she was released six hours later and left to walk home.