MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. (AP) — A suburban New York police sergeant has been indicted in a federal civil rights lawsuit, accused of using a stun gun multiple times on a handcuffed man with mental illness.
Sgt. Mario Stewart, the commander of the force at Mount Vernon, fired a Taser at the man seven times within two minutes, according to the lawsuit. He was accused of violating the individual’s constitutional rights by using excessive force.
“Stewart’s actions not only violated his duty to protect his subordinates, but he violated the law,” said US Attorney Damian Williams.
Stewart’s attorney, Kevin Conway, said his client was doing his duty and had not violated anyone’s rights or committed a crime.
“He was fulfilling his duty to respond to a mental health call for an individual who was in a distressed mental and physical condition,” Conway said.
A sergeant and other officers were dispatched to a parking lot in March 2019 to assist a man who was partially naked and appeared to be in distress.
Stewart, the superintendent on the scene, ordered the man handcuffed to the ground. The officers then tried to put him in a “barrier bag” for transportation. But the man was stuck in a strap on the side of the bag, so they were only able to partially find him, according to the lawsuit.
Stewart told the man to let go, and if he didn’t, he fired the stun gun repeatedly, prosecutors said.
At the time, the man was on the ground with his hands tied behind his back and his legs tied in a bag.
Emergency medical personnel tried unsuccessfully to get the man to agree to be transported for care, Conway said, and Stewart had no choice but to use non-lethal methods.
Stewart, of Brooklyn, pleaded not guilty Thursday in front of a federal judge in White Plains and was released on personal recognizance, his attorney said.
In a statement, the administration of Mount Vernon Mayor Shawn Patterson-Howard, who took office several months after the incident, said, “The alleged indictment of the Department of Justice is outrageous and undermines the public’s trust in the hardworking men and women of the Mount Vernon Police Department.”
Mount Vernon is 15 miles (20 km) north of downtown Manhattan.
Emails seeking comment have been sent to the police department and police union.