Victory! In 2014, a Worcester jury in federal district court awarded $15,000 to Wakeelah Cocroft (shown left in photo, with her husband and sister), finding that Worcester Police Officer Jeremy Smith violated her Fourth Amendment rights and the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act.
Ms. Cocroft's federal suit arose from a 2007 incident in which Officer Smith pulled over Ms. Cocroft's sister, Clytheia Mwangi, of Worcester, for speeding. At trial, Ms. Cocroft testified that the officer aggressively approached Ms. Mwangi's car and began screaming at her. While the officer prepared to write a ticket, Ms. Cocroft, who was a passenger, went into the station to purchase gas and then returned to use the pump. Then, according to Ms. Cocroft's testimony, Officer Smith began yelling at her and ordered her to return to the car.
Ms. Cocroft did return to the car, as she testified and video surveillance confirmed. And she told Officer Smith that he had no right to speak to her in that manner and that she knew her rights.
Nevertheless Officer Smith threatened to arrest her if she kept talking. Smith then grabbed her from behind, pulled her away from the car, and used a martial arts technique to wrestle her to the ground. Ms. Cocroft testified that Officer Smith slammed her face against the concrete. She alleges that he then kneeled on her back until a second officer arrived in response to a 911 call by Ms. Mwangi. Ms. Cocroft and her sister are Black, while Officer Smith is white.
The jury found that Officer Smith's actions violated Ms. Cocroft's rights under the Fourth Amendment and a state civil rights law, which forbid police officers from arresting people without probable cause to believe they have committed a crime.