Jan. 18, 2004 Yvonne and Harry Freeman, the couple manhandled by police and subsequently arrested at Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's inauguration ceremony last January, filed a lawsuit Friday in District Court claiming the officers violated their civil rights.
The Freemans on Saturday confirmed the suit had been filed but referred questions to their attorney, Andrew Capdeville, who was unavailable for comment over the weekend.
During the inauguration ceremony, the Freemans were participating in a peaceful demonstration by the American Federation of Teachers in protest of raises recently approved by the Senate for elected officials. The St. Thomas-St. John AFT president, Vernelle de Lagarde, said at the time that the group had no intention of entering Emancipation Garden, the site of the swearing-in ceremonies, but marched through the adjacent parking lot. When they were turned back by a barrage of police as they attempted to turn left onto the street between the garden and Grand Galleria, they reversed and began marching back the way they had come toward the Charlotte Amalie fire station.
It was at this juncture that the violence broke out. Kenneth Gittens, chief of the governor's security force, and several other officers grabbed Ms. Freeman, threw her to the ground, turned her around on her knees, handcuffed her behind her back, and then dragged her to a nearby police car.
Cadia Grande, an Addelita Cancryn Junior High School teacher, witnessed the arrest of Freeman. Grande said when the officers accosted Freeman, her husband tried to protect her. "A policeman hit him with his billy club five or six times; he fell down and he was bleeding," Grande said. As officers were handcuffing Harry Freeman, with blood running down his face, he then told reporters: "I tell the fellow, 'That's my wife,' and he hit me in the head." The couple was then hauled away to the police station at the criminal justice complex. (See "Police manhandle teacher, 69-year-old spouse".)
Yvonne Freeman was arrested for "aggravated assault and battery on an officer," with bail set at $500. AFT members raised the bail money, and she was released until her court hearing the following day. Harry Freeman was released without being charged.
That hearing was postponed until Jan. 9 because a key witness for the government, Gittens, was unavailable because of duties related to the three-day inaugural celebrations.
At the rescheduled hearing on Jan. 9, Territorial Judge Brenda Hollar threw out the government's case. Hollar ruled that there was no probable cause for the case to proceed. She said Freeman was "not properly arrested" and, therefore, the charge against her of "resisting arrest is inappropriate." Gittens did not make the arrest, and it was not done in his presence, Hollar said. Therefore, she said, "you cannot find probable cause." (See "Charges against protesting teacher dismissed".)
On the witness stand, Gittens claimed Freeman had been the aggressor, grabbing his tie. He was at the time wearing a plainclothes suit and tie. He said another teacher, Valerie Johnson, threw water on some policemen at the demonstration and an altercation ensued with Freeman. He accused her of "throwing her hands" and said she used profane language when he told her to be quiet. Gittens, who stands more than six feet tall, testified that the 51-year-old Freeman kicked him in the groin and the stomach, then "pulled me to the ground with her." He said he then told other officers, "This woman needs to be cuffed."
On Jan. 6, the Source published a photo of Gittens grabbing Mrs. Freeman by the blouse as another police officer secured her by the arm. The photo was taken right before Freeman was dragged to the police car.
No court date for the lawsuit has been announced.
The Source was unable to obtain a copy of the lawsuit over the weekend, as the courts are closed until Tuesday, after the Monday Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
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