Retired correction officer claims racial profiling in Mineola grocery store takedown

Stacey Sager Image
Thursday, June 1, 2017
Retired officer claims racial profiling in grocery store takedown
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Stacey Sager has more from Mineola.

GARDEN CITY, Long Island (WABC) -- A retired correction officer is taking action after he claims he was racially profiled and humiliated at a supermarket on Long Island.

Ronald Lanier, a 22-year veteran of the Nassau County Sheriff's Department, said officers were looking for an African-American suspect when they beat him and threw him to the ground in the store simply because he's black.

Now, he wants the village of Garden City to pay up.

The incident in question happened November 30, 2016, as Lanier -- who is also a military veteran -- was shopping in the Western Beef Supermarket in Mineola, just blocks away from his home. He said he had only been in the store briefly when he was suddenly taken to the ground from behind by two Garden City police officers, identified as George Byrd and John Russell.

Lanier said they cursed at him, beat him, threw him to the ground and cuffed him while continuing to verbally abusing him.

It all happened, the suit alleges, because Lanier was profiled based on the color of his skin. Since the police were allegedly looking for a black man, Lanier says they grabbed the first one they saw in the store.

"I'm here to make a change not just for me, but for the other people that can not speak," he said.

Overcome with emotion at times, Lanier described how the two officers allegedly used excessive force and verbal abuse even after Lanier told them he was a retired officer and not the shoplifter for whom they were searching.

He claims the officers would not listen to his pleas and attempts to identify himself, and that he was further abused and humiliated by the officers as he was walked through the store in handcuffs and then held in the back of a police car for at least 20 minutes.

"They told me, 'Shut the F up, and get on the ground,'" he said. "Then they took me, they handcuffed me, and they whispered in my ear, said, 'You want to be a tough guy?' They started beating me on both sides of my ribs."

Police later caught the actual shoplifter, and Lanier said he was released with no apology and no explanation. No police report was ever filed.

"So when we talk about racial profiling, and we evaluate it for what it is, this couldn't be any more clear than a racial-profiling case," attorney Frederick Brewington said. "The police officers didn't even know who they were looking for except that it was a black man."

Lanier said he still cringes at the thought of what else could have happened if he had been carrying his gun.

"Because in their mind, they thought I was the guy," he said. "Just weigh on that. That's always going to be in the back of my head."

After unsuccessfully trying to have Garden City take responsibility for the conduct of its officers, he said he was left with no alternative but to sue to vindicate his rights and seek justice.

"The way our system says we can get some justice is to pull them kicking and screaming, and ask them hard questions that they refuse to answer when we write them letters," Brewington said.

The lawsuit cites Byrd, Russell, their supervisors, the village of Garden City, and the Garden City Police Department.