A young Black man filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Department last week after he spent six weeks on Rikers Island for a crime he had a withstanding alibi against. The NYPD jailed the then-20-year-old for fitting the vague and highly stereotypical description of being an “African American man wearing a hoodie.”
David Owens was leaving his stock associate position at the NYC flagship Macy’s at Herald Square at 3 a.m. on October 23, 2012. He then got on the No. 1 train to go home. When the train arrived at the 50th Street Station, NYPD officers confronted him on his train car and demanded to see Owen’s ID.
On his person Owens had identification, his Macy’s time report, a cellphone, keys, and loose change. The police refused to communicate to Owens as they arrested him.
“All he could decipher, based on snippets of radio communications that he heard, was that a young Black male had recently committed a crime,” according to the lawsuit.
When he arrived to the police station a “hysterical and possibly intoxicated” white woman implicated Owens as a thief who stole her backpack from under her feet around 2:28 a.m. As Owens protested the accusation and repeatedly explained to officers that he was at work during the time the crime was committed, he was jailed anyway. He had no backpack on him and a physical time stamp showing hard proof of his whereabouts.
Regardless, Owens was charged with larceny in the fourth degree and his bail was set at $3,500. When he couldn’t pay, he was jailed for six weeks and lost his job. According to the complaint, “no grand jury was ever assembled to hear the Complainant or arresting officers testify, and the case against Mr. Owens was dismissed six weeks after the arrest when prosecutors conceded they could not prove the case.”
Owens, who now lives in Augusta, Ga,, has been scarred by the incident.
“It messed me up,” he told The Daily News. ” I just hoped and prayed I wouldn’t get killed in there, and I would be able to tell my story so other people wouldn’t have to go through what I did.”
His lawyer, Andrew L. Hoffman compared the incident to that of a kidnapping.
“It was incredibly traumatic. If you get picked up and forcibly taken by someone and held against your will, it’s not that different from being kidnapped,” he told The Daily News.
The arresting officer, Anthony Francavilla, who is being named in Owen’s suit, was involved in another settled suit after a 27-year-old Black man was also arrested and verbally assaulted at a Midtown subway station in 2014.
The NYPD released two short statements regarding the matter, saying they would “review the complaint” and had no commet on the pending litigation.
“He was a guy who was doing all the right things. He was going home from work, he was going to go straight home, and through no fault of his own, he became a victim of the worst stereotype there is: a young African-American male in a hoodie up to no good,” Hoffman said. “He was obviously shocked and surprised and traumatized and confused and disappointed.”