Associated Press/Manuel Balce Ceneta
- A black Secret Service agent is suing two US Park Police officers, arguing they singled him out over his race and unlawfully detained him while he was on duty.
- Nathaniel Hicks, who is now retired, said one of the officers approached him with his gun drawn, as Hicks was waiting for a top Obama administration official’s motorcade.
- But the officer said he had approached Hicks because he suspected Hicks was sleeping, and that he only drew his gun because he saw Hicks’ gun lying on the passenger seat.
- A federal judge ruled on Monday that Hicks’ lawsuit can proceed, and that the officers are not entitled to qualified immunity that would protect them from a lawsuit.
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A black Secret Service agent is suing two US Park Police officers, arguing that they singled him out over his race, while he was on duty in July 2015, and held him at gunpoint, detaining him for at least an hour.
Nathaniel Hicks, who retired in 2016 shortly after filing the lawsuit, argued in a complaint that both the officers knew he was a Secret Service special agent, on assignment to join former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s motorcade.
He said he was sitting in his Secret Service-issued vehicle on the right shoulder of a Maryland highway, waiting for Johnson’s motorcade to approach, when Park Police Officer Gerald Ferreyra allegedly approached with his gun drawn.
"My hands go in the air. I said, ‘Whoa, whoa. I’m a Secret Service special agent. I’m here for a motorcade movement. Allow me to show you my creds,’" Hicks said in a deposition.
Hicks’ complaint alleged that he gave Ferreyra and his fellow officer, Brian Phillips, his Secret Service credentials, but that they refused to let him leave and continue working. Hicks claimed the officers had no probable cause to arrest him, nor reasonable suspicion to believe he had committed a crime.
‘Singled out for unlawful treatment because of his race’
He alleges one of the officers even "mockingly waved his hand goodbye" at Johnson’s motorcade as it eventually passed them, with Hicks still detained on the shoulder of the highway.
Hicks’ complaint said the officers’ hostility towards him and their lack of explanation for stopping him reveals their "discriminatory motives."
"Based on upon the absence of probable cause, or even any reasonable suspicion to justify his prolonged seizure, it appears that Special Agent Hicks was singled out for unlawful treatment because of his race," the complaint alleges.
Hicks suggested in his deposition that he was shaken by the encounter — particularly by the fact that he was held at gunpoint.
"When there is a gun pointed at you, regardless of what time it is, whether it’s night or day, you’re not going to forget that," he said. "In all my years of my position as a law enforcement officer, I never had that happen before."
Hicks is alleging the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights
Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite
But Ferreyra said in his deposition that he had first approached Hicks’ vehicle and knocked on the window "to wake him up," and that he drew his gun, while he reached for Hicks’ gun lying on the passenger seat.
Ferreyra claims Hicks was "a little combative with me," and that Hicks had not been wearing his badge or equipment properly. He also said he initially suspected that Hicks may have been drunk, but within 10 to 15 minutes realized he was not drunk and did not investigate further.
Hicks filed his lawsuit against Ferreyra and Phillips in July 2016, but it was only on Monday that a federal judge in Maryland ruled that Hicks could move forward with the lawsuit.
US District Judge Paul Grimm ruled that the Ferreyra and Phillips were not entitled to qualified immunity, which typically protects officers against lawsuits unless their actions clearly violated federal law or the Constitution.
Grimm wrote in his order that he denied the officers’ request for qualified immunity because it wasn’t clear that the officers had probable cause to continue detaining Hicks — which would violate his Fourth Amendment rights.
The Park Police did not immediately respond to INSIDER’s request for comment, but a spokesman told The Baltimore Sun that both Ferreyra and Phillips are both still employed as officers.
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