Lawsuit Claims That Portland Police Used Excessive Force To Illegally Detain Somali Woman

Jul 23, 2020

A Somali woman says that Portland police officers used excessive force to illegally detain her at Maine Medical Center in 2014 when she was trying to locate her 16-year-old daughter there, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland.

The City of Portland, former Portland Police Chief and current Maine Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck, a community policing coordinator, and a city police officer were named as defendants.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Mumina Ali, claims an officer handcuffed her at Maine Medical Center on July 23, 2014, and pushed on her upper back while she walked, causing her to fall and chip a tooth. While she was on the ground, the officer began choking her from behind, according to the lawsuit, causing her to lose consciousness. The lawsuit claims Ali had not engaged in any illegal activity and police had no probable cause to believe she would.

Neither a city spokesperson nor the city’s police chief immediately responded to a request for comment Thursday morning.

The lawsuit further alleges that Ali and her family’s harassment by the Portland Police Department is a common experience amongst the city’s immigrant and minority populations.

Ali is a Somali refugee who moved to Maine with her five children in 2006, after living in a refugee camp in Kenya for eight years. That experience caused one of her daughters to suffer from severe post traumatic stress disorder, according to the lawsuit.

On July 22, 2014, that daughter was arrested by Portland police, according to the lawsuit.

The next day, Ali’s youngest teen daughter — who spoke the best English in her family — contacted the Cumberland County Jail to ask why her older sister was arrested.

The daughter told police she was distressed from her sister’s arrest and was thinking “of harming herself,” according to the lawsuit.

“As a 16 year old trying to save her sister, she made that statement as a last resort,” the lawsuit states, and did not intend on actually harming herself.

The teen was detained for those comments, according to the lawsuit. She vomited in the cruiser from her anxiety, according to the lawsuit, so the officer transported her to Maine Medical Center.

When Ali finally tracked her daughter to the hospital, staff there attempted to connect her with an interpreter.

As the wait to locate an interpreter hit the three-hour mark, police and social workers instructed Ali to sign a document, according to the lawsuit.

Without an interpreter and not being able to read English, Ali refused twice to sign the document, according to the lawsuit.

So police “aggressively handcuffed [Ali’s] hands behind her back and walked behind her pushing her in the upper back out the Emergency Department and into the parking area,” according to the lawsuit.

Ali, who suffers from multiple health issues including asthma and back problems, walks slowly, according to the lawsuit. She chipped a tooth after falling on the sidewalk and “screamed out in pain and alarm,” the lawsuit said.

Immediately, the officer “pushed her head into the ground, then began choking her from behind with his arm and placed a hand over her mouth to muffle her screams as she lay prone on the ground,” the lawsuit said.

Ali said she was terrified for her life because she was unable to breath. She became dizzy and at some point lost consciousness, and when Ali regained consciousness she vomited, according to the lawsuit.

Ali was taken back into the hospital in a wheelchair — but still handcuffed — and hospital records say she was agitated and yelling, according to the lawsuit.

Ali was taken into a trauma room, placed face down on the table and put in five-point restraints. A hospital “sock” was forcibly shoved in her mouth to stop her from screaming, the lawsuit states.

After being restrained, the lawsuit says that a physician administered shots of antipsychotic medication including Haldol and Ativan to Ali, even though she did not consent to receiving this medication. She was then placed in a small room and kept there for six hours.

She was released later that night, given a neck brace, wheeled to the exit and had to walk home alone, according to the lawsuit.

The force used by police caused permanent injury to Ali’s neck and right shoulder, according to the lawsuit, and the incident has affected her both emotionally and mentally.

The lawsuit alleges that the Portland Police Department did not conduct a thorough investigation of the incident.

Following the July 23, 2014, incident, Maine Department of Health and Human Services took custody of Ali’s teen daughter and moved her to a group home in Lewiston, according to the lawsuit. After a hearing, a judge returned the 16-year-old to Ali’s custody.

The lawsuit claims police violated Ali’s constitutional rights. She is seeking $750,000 and jury trial.

This story appears through a partnership with the Bangor Daily News.