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Through the window of his first-floor Congress Heights apartment, Lennon English listened as Mayor Muriel Bowser’s press conference started to kick off on May 13. Bowser spoke outside the Hillcrest Children and Family Center, next door to English’s building, to mark Mental Health Awareness Month.
“We know for sure that this pandemic has upended a lot of people’s lives and a lot of our services,” Bowser said. “It’s OK to ask for help if you’re feeling depressed, if you’re feeling anxious. … We want you to reach out and ask for help. Ask to talk to somebody.”
By the end of Bowser’s remarks, English had walked over to join the reporters and community members who’d gathered at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE and Raleigh Street SE. When the mayor asked for questions from the community, English spoke up.
“I want to know what are you gonna do about the effects of police brutality and police violence against African Americans in this city, both the mental health of the victims, who are African American, but also the mental health of your administration and police officers who are participating in brutality?” English asked.
Bowser said that she would not tolerate officers who don’t follow the rules and directed English to file a complaint.
He had already filed a complaint, English told the mayor, adding that in January 2021, Sergeant Matthew Nickerson and several other officers beat him and shocked him with a stun gun in his living room while he was still wet from the shower.
“I came to your office about it,” English told the mayor. “Y’all didn’t do anything to those officers. You haven’t done anything to help my mental health at all.”
Bowser didn’t probe much further, nor did she offer an apology, as some who watched the exchange pointed out. She promised English that someone would check into his situation.
City Paper followed up with English the next day. Sitting on the steps outside his building, he described how officers showed up at his apartment building twice in three days, banging on the doors to serve arrest warrants but refusing to show those documents. Just as he did during Bowser’s press conference, English focused on Nickerson, who he says is known within the community for using aggressive tactics.
This is what English says happened:
On Jan. 24, 2021, a group of D.C. police officers took the front door to the four-unit building off its hinges, English, a U.S. Air Force veteran, says. The officers were there to serve an arrest warrant for a man known as Diamond.
The door to English’s first floor apartment is just inside the door officers had taken down, so he poked his head out to see what the commotion was about, he says. Officers told him they were serving an arrest warrant, but when English asked to see it, the officers refused, he says. He says he later saw a copy of the warrant, which showed an address for a homeless shelter, not his building.
Two days later, on Jan. 26, a group of officers showed up again. English heard banging on the door as he stepped out of the shower, and his neighbor from across the hall texted him, afraid that someone was breaking into the building.
English opened his door with a towel around his waist and his landlady on speaker phone, according to body camera footage of the incident that police recently provided to English. (None of the clips show the physical altercation inside his living room.) Nickerson and several other officers were standing in the building’s entryway. English told them his landlady wanted to speak with the officer in charge.
“Look, man, y’all can’t come in here and be banging on this shit day in and day out. If y’all ain’t serving no warrants, y’all can’t be in here,” English said.
Nickerson said they had business upstairs and told English to go back inside his apartment, body camera footage shows. English, growing agitated, protested and again asked to see a warrant. The clip from Nickerson’s body camera shows Nickerson taking a step toward English and then cuts off. English says Nickerson was attempting to cross the threshold into his apartment, so he shoved the officer backward.
Footage from another officer’s body camera then shows Nickerson and two other officers rush into English’s apartment. “Get out of my house!” English is heard yelling on the video while Nickerson is standing in his living room.
“I’m about to assault the fuck out of you. Get up out of my house. You have no permission to be here,” English says.
English tells City Paper the officers then threw him to the floor and slammed his head into his coffee table. Four officers knelt on his back and one officer put him in a chokehold, English says, as they handcuffed him.
“And then they start tasing me, telling me to stop resisting,” English says. “My hands are cuffed.”
The police report says English “was taken to the ground and after a brief struggle was ultimately placed in handcuffs.” The report does not mention the use of a stun gun. MPD spokesperson Dustin Sternbeck says via email that a sergeant (not Nickerson) “initiated an ‘arc’ of the Taser,” which is the function that initiates the electric current but does not fire the cartridge. “No member deployed the Taser on the subject,” Sternbeck says. City Paper asked to review that portion of the video, but Sternbeck says the body camera footage “is available to the party involved, and his/her legal representation.”
English says MPD’s version of events is a “flat out fucking lie.” The department declined to make Nickerson available for an interview.
Officers took English to jail and charged him with assault on a police officer, according to a police report. He was released within a few hours, and prosecutors “no papered” the case, meaning they declined to formally file charges, English says.
English says he filed a complaint with the Office of Police Complaints the day after he was arrested, but an investigator there found the officers did nothing wrong, he says.
“These motherfuckers used their position as police officers to raid my home because I’m a Black man,” English says. “That’s some fucked up shit. I’m a Black man who demanded that they show a warrant.”
The warrant that officers showed up at English’s building to serve on Jan. 26 was signed in June of 2020. It lists the apartment building on Raleigh Street SE, but names a man who English says doesn’t live in the building anymore. It’s unclear why officers waited seven months to serve the warrant, and MPD did not respond by press time to a question about the delay.
English says he’s had other physical altercations with police, and says shortly before he was arrested in his living room, he reported an officer for driving too fast down a residential street, nearly striking two young children in November 2020.
As for Nickerson, he’s named in multiple lawsuits, one of which was filed by a member of his own unit and cost the District nearly $300,000. According to that case, Officer Philip Tridico worked under Nickerson in MPD’s narcotics unit starting in 2009. Tridico, a Marine Corps veteran and practicing Catholic, objected to the frequent use of the N-word among narcotics officers (most of whom were Black) and to pornography displayed in the office. Nickerson was one of the sergeants in the unit and then began harassing Tridico, calling him “sensitive,” and “moral,” according to the lawsuit.
Tridico says in his lawsuit that Nickerson called him “psycho,” “killer,” and a “fucking retard.” In his deposition, Tridico says he once asked Nickerson to borrow a knife and Nickerson responded, “I’ll pass you the knife if you kill yourself. You’re not good for anything anyway.” In another outburst, Tridico asked Nickerson a question, and the sergeant allegedly responded, “Well, what do the voices in your head tell you, you PTSD motherfucker?”
The lawsuit does not specifically say that Nickerson himself used the racial slur, but Tridico said in a deposition that in general “the word n—r was thrown around that office. It didn’t matter from who, from where.”
Tridico said in his deposition that rather than use the racial slur, Nickerson said, “Well, we will just say ninja now instead of n—r; we will say ninja because Tridico is sensitive.”
The case went to trial and in 2016 a jury awarded Tridico $20,000 in compensatory damages, finding he was harassed based on his religion and military service and that his superiors retaliated against him. A judge granted Tridico’s attorneys nearly $260,000 in fees and costs.
Another lawsuit alleges that Nickerson was among a group of D.C. police officers who “forcibly removed” a passenger from a vehicle they stopped while driving in Seat Pleasant in 2010. The lawsuit says the officers “slammed [the man’s] head into [the car] door and placed [him] in a choke hold, thus causing [him] to lose consciousness for an unknown period of time.”
The officers allegedly strip searched the man in the middle of the street, but did not find any contraband, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit does not specify which officers took which actions, so it’s unclear the extent to which Nickerson participated in the alleged abuse. The man was detained until Maryland officers could arrive on the scene, and those officers declined to arrest the man, the lawsuit says.
In response to the allegations, District attorneys denied that officers forcibly removed the passenger or slammed his head into the vehicle. They admit the officers “may have … patted [him] down for weapons,” but deny that they strip searched him and instead allege that the man “removed his own clothing.” The case was filed in 2011 and was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
After Bowser’s press conference last Friday, English says he spoke with Jackie Reyes-Yanes, director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs, and Byron Johnson, a Ward 8 liaison from that office. He says he followed up this week, but hasn’t gotten a response. Still, he says he believes Bowser will take action against the officers. “And if she don’t, I’m gonna vote for somebody else,” he says.
English says he wants the police to leave him alone and for the officers involved in his arrest to be fired. He also wants to see a law enacted that protects against the kind of treatment he received.
“They compromised my rights,” he says. “I am not the same.”