Pepin Tuma Sues D.C. Over False Arrest, Anti-Gay Slur
On July 26, 2009, Pepin Tuma and two friends were strolling down U Street, discussing "the excessive use of police powers" in the recent arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates. Within "seconds," Tuma says an MPD officer had him pushed up against a utility box, handcuffed, and arrested for "disorderly conduct." Last Friday, Tuma filed suit against the District of Columbia and MPD Officer James Culp for violating his First and Fourth Amendment rights—and making him another victim of excessive force.
"This is an action for damages and other relief by Pepin A. Tuma, who was detained, arrested and humiliated by Defendant Officer James Culp without any lawful basis and with the sole and illegitimate purpose of harassing Mr. Tuma because of Mr. Tuma’s criticism of the police and Officer Culp’s perception that Mr. Tuma is gay," the complaint reads.
Tuma—accompanied by friends Luke Platzer and David Stetson on U Street that night—admits to engaging in some light taunting prior to his arrest. From his complaint:
Across the street, on the north side of U Street, several police cruisers were parked with their lights on and several police officers were engaging in what appeared to be a traffic stop of a single civilian. Mr. Tuma noticed the police cruisers and commented to his friends that this seemed to be another example of excessive policing. As Mr. Tuma passed the police cruisers, he said, in a sing-song voice, “I hate the police; I hate the police.” Neither Mr. Tuma nor his friends stopped or slowed down as they walked. They did not approach, address or gesture to any of the police officers.
Then, Tuma claims:
Within seconds . . . Officer Culp charged across U Street shouting, in substance, "Who do you think you are? Who do you think you’re talking to? You can’t talk to me that way!" . . . When Officer Culp reached Mr. Tuma, he forcefully pushed Mr. Tuma up against a utility box . . . handcuffed him, and dragged him across to the north side of U Street to the police cruisers where he was searched and placed under arrest. Mr. Tuma did not resist in any way. When Mr. Tuma asked why he was being arrested, Officer Culp replied, “Just shut up, faggot.” . . . Mr. Tuma later learned that he had been arrested for disorderly conduct.
According to the complaint, Tuma filed complaints against Culp with the Second District police station, the D.C. Office of Police Complaints, and D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier. Tuma's complaint says that Culp was disciplined over the arrest. Tuma, who is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, is now suing Culp and D.C. for violating his constitutional rights, false arrest, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress—as evidenced by the slur.
Tuma seeks compensatory damages—and "an injunction directing the District of Columbia to expunge all records of his arrest . . . and authorizing him to deny that he was arrested on July 26, 2009." I have an e-mail out to MPD for comment.