District of Columbia police have inappropriately targeted young, black motorcyclists by hitting them with their squad cars to confiscate illegal bikes, according to a class action suit filed in federal court on Friday. Dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles are illegal to ride or operate in D.C., but can be purchased in a number of D.C. metropolitan area stores.
The eight plaintiffs in the D.C. suit are led by Terry Thedale Cain, a black D.C. resident who says that police officers followed him on his bike in July 2012 before physically clipping his leg with a cruiser.
"It was clear the police intended to hit me while I was on my bike," Cain writes in a declaration to the court, and alleges that an officer physically assaulted him after he got off the bike.
The complaint also alleges that police department supervisors are aware of and condone the practice.
MPD told U.S. News it would not comment on pending litigation.
"This is an extreme cat and mouse game that's been going on for years," says David Shurtz, the Arlington, Va.-based attorney on the suit. "If they are wholesale targeting, as a police department, young black males in a poor section of town with deadly force – that is racial profiling."
The civil rights suit was filed the same day President Barack Obama made a major speech on race in which he urged state and city elected officials to better address the issue of racial profiling by local law enforcement.
"I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists," Obama said.
The D.C. complaint states that Metropolitan police should be aware of the practice because of the 2009 case Estate of Arnell Robinson v. D.C., which alleges that Arnell Robinson, a 20-year-old, black D.C. resident, was struck and killed while on a motorcycle by an officer in a squad car.
The new case claims officers caused motorcyclists bodily injuries, emotional distress, loss of income and medical damages. They seek $100 million in damages.
Arthur Spitzer, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in D.C., who has represented clients in a number of cases against MPD, says the allegations aren't implausible.
"It's possible [David Shurtz] has really uncovered a large number of incidents of police knocking people off motorbikes," he says. "And that would certainly be pretty shocking if it's true."