Exclusive: Father says daughter was racially profiled after police thought she matched description of shoplifter
A black teen honor student at an all-girl Catholic high school claims she was roughed up by plainclothes NYPD cops who thought she matched the description of a shoplifting suspect, the Daily News has learned.
Police later realized Brittany Rowley didn’t commit the crime — but she is still haunted by the nightmare she experienced on a Park Slope street and the three hours spent handcuffed to a bench in a police stationhouse.
“It was terrifying,” Rowley, 15, said in an exclusive interview. “It is the most horrible thing I have ever experienced.”
Her father said hes outraged by the incident and on Tuesday filed notice of a $5.5 million lawsuit against the city and Sgt. Jonathan Catanzaro and Officer Stephen Nakao of the 78th Precinct. The court papers allege false arrest and excessive force, including that the sergeant slammed Rowley to the pavement and flung his keys at her.
“I feel my daughter was racially profiled,” Delmus Rowley said.
“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.”
There is no dispute that two black teen girls shoplifted shorts and jeans from Rivet, a clothing store on Seventh Ave., last Friday around 3:30 p.m. A description of the suspects was broadcast by police at 3:44 p.m. — two female black teens, dark hair, one had a ponytail, police said.
Catanzaro and Nakao were patrolling in an umarked car when they spotted Rowley and a friend walking on Prospect Park West. Rowley had braided hair extensions tied together.
Rowley, a freshman at St. Saviour High School, and her friend were going to the library when she noticed a vehicle trailing them.
The accounts diverge at this point. 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.
The Rowleys’ lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, said the arrest shows the growing concern civil rights advocates have with the NYPD’s crimefighting tactics.
“It is not a surprise that parents fear more that their children will suffer violence at the hands of the police than from common criminals,” Rubenstein said.