A Westbury resident is filing a multi-million dollar claim against the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD), alleging three white officers used excessive force and violated her civil rights during a traffic stop.
Nyeaira Fulton, 22, of Westbury, was driving home from her job in Huntingon on Sept. 18 at 6 p.m., when she says she saw “very bright headlights” in her rear-view mirror. Fulton said she has never been pulled over before and because she didn’t have her glasses on and there were no sirens, didn’t know that the car behind her was a police officer’s.
Thinking it was an angry driver, she began to speed up, eventually losing control of her car after about a block and hitting a stop sign and then bushes in a residential neighborhood of Deer Park. When the police officer approached her car, Fulton said she became fearful for her life because he had his hand on what she thought was his gun.
“I thought if I treated the police officer with respect, he would treat me with the same. From the moment the officer pulled up to the scene, he was not professional at all. He cursed at me, he was holding what I believed to be his gun,” Fulton said. “It was so aggressive, I didn’t feel comfortable getting out of my car.”
Fulton says she told the officer she was scared and uncomfortable with just one officer, and asked him to call backup. Fulton says when the officer saw that she was filming the encounter on her cell phone, he became angry and proceeded to break the glass of her car window and try to take her phone away.
At the same time, a bystander at the scene was filming the incident, a video that has garnered almost 14,500 views on YouTube. The video shows a police officer leaning into the passenger side door and trying to forcibly remove Fulton from the car, grabbing her by the legs. Two other police officers arrive on the scene and the three can be seen pulling her from the car, with one officer grabbing her by the back of the neck before she’s pinned to the ground and handcuffed. One bystander on the video can be heard saying to police “you guys are crazy, this is insane,” while the person filming the video has said that the officer acted correctly, and did not use excessive force.
“This is something that should have been uneventful and resolved without any force,” said Fulton’s attorney Thomas F. Liotti. “With the background of everything happening around this country, was she afraid of white police officers and what they might do to her? Yes, she was. There are ways to calm the situation. It’s not like there was an ongoing crime going on. This was a traffic stop. They were belligerent and excessive in their use of force.”
Liotti said the police officers should have tried to asses the situation calmly, instead of using excessive force. He also questioned why the police officer became so belligerent after noticing he was being recorded.
“They’re entitled to make a stop, but how they do it and what they do after they make the stop becomes the issue. I’m not saying she was stopped just because she was an African American,” Liotti said. “The procedure left much to be desired.”
Fulton was pulled over for having a suspended registration, which Fulton said she was unaware she had. According to SCPD, she was also speeding. While he wasn’t allowed to talk about the pending litigation, Justin Meyers, assistant police comissioner for the SCPD, said officers undergo extensive training—including anti-bias training—before they’re on the street.
“We put a tremendous amount of investment into community relations and building transparency with the public,” Meyers said. “That’s an enormous priority.”
Fulton has four charges pending against her, including resisting arrest, reckless driving, fleeing a police officer and second-degree obstructing governmental administration. Last week, she and Liotti filed a multi-million dollar claim against the Suffolk County police department and the officers involved, saying she was falsely arrested with trumped up charges, assaulted and had her civil rights violated.
“I view litigation like this as being curative, a lesson should be learned from this,” said Liotti. “We’re not focused on damages but raising the issue in the community, so hopefully the police in the community at large understand this is a very important issue that needs to be addressed.”
“I haven’t slept since that incident. This is something that will travel with me the rest of my life,” Fulton said. “Because I personally had an incident with the police and tried to avoid everything that happened, and it still happened, I’ll never be able to forget.”