Lawsuit: St. Paul Police locked Osha Joseph in a hot car until he threw up

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Submitted photo

Osha Joseph claims a group of St. Paul cops locked him inside a hot squad car on an 80-degree day with the windows rolled up, and left him in there until he became physically ill. 

Joseph, who was 20 at the time of the alleged mistreatment, made the disturbing accusation in a civil lawsuit complaint filed in U.S. District Court earlier this week. Because the episode took place inside a police vehicle, the whole thing was captured on tape, which Joseph's attorneys used to recreate the scene on a minute-to-minute timeline.

In response, an attorney for the city of St. Paul says the video of Joseph's detention "speaks for itself," and that his complaint against the city and its police officers is "an incomplete recitation of events depicted in said squad [car] video." The city's response denies the vast majority of the claims in Joseph's complaint aside from the fact that the four men in question are members of the St. Paul police force.

Reached by the Pioneer Press, the St. Paul Police Department declined to comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit's allegations pick up after the night Philando Castile was killed in Falcon Heights by (now former) police officer Jeronimo Yanez, as protesters took to the streets of St. Paul.

Hundreds blocked traffic on I-94 and on city roads, and dozens were later arrested. Law enforcement used smoke bombs and pepper spray on the crowd, and protester clashes with police resulted in injuries to numerous officers, according to police.

Joseph is represented in his case by the St. Paul law firm Lundgren & Johnson, which specializes in criminal defense and civil rights cases.

According to the complaint:

After the protests died down, St. Paul Police were on the lookout for a GMC Yukon SUV with a particular license plate, which they believed to be somehow related to the night's violence, according to a civil lawsuit filed this week against the department. At around 10:00 a.m. the next morning, cops thought they'd found it. 

The SUV was parked on the street on Cook Avenue in the city's Payne-Phalen neighborhood. Police set up a stakeout, and waited to see who used the car. Eventually, the lawsuit says, a couple of people got in and drove it away; they were soon pulled over and apprehended by police, who took them to a station for questioning. 

Later that day, police returned to the house where the SUV had been parked to execute a search of the house. Inside the home, they found Joseph, and two cops took him to a squad car for temporary detention. Joseph told police he is "claustrophobic," and asked if he could sit in the car with the door open, adding that he "does not have anything in his background."

Cops don't agree to this, and one eventually goes to close the door, but before Joseph could get his foot all the way inside, shutting the door on his foot. Joseph told police he wanted medical attention for his foot.

Joseph was shut inside the car at 2:14 p.m. About 10 minutes later, he complained of the heat inside the vehicle, and was told he would have to "sit tight," adding a few minutes later that "[his] boss... says you will remain in there until he says otherwise." 

Less than five minutes after that, Joseph was banging on the window of the car, saying, "I know you all can hear me. It's hot as fuck and I need my inhaler!" A couple minutes later, Joseph says, "I can't fucking breathe." Joseph continued trying to get officers' attention by banging on windows and yelling, "Get me out!" and "I'm innocent as fuck!"

A couple minutes later, the officer whose squad car Joseph was in comes back and opens the door, briefly, to tell Joseph he would be shackled in place if he wouldn't stop hitting the windows.

Two minutes later, Joseph, described as "covered in perspiration," began to cough, and then threw up on the floor of the police car. He vomited several times in short succession. When an officer returned and opened the back door, Joseph leaned his head out and threw up on the ground. 

Told police were trying to make the search "as quick as possible," Joseph responded: "I'm not bothering you all; you all are bothering me, though. I can be in the house somewhere, I could be somewhere that's not bothering y'all, real talk." The officer ignores this suggestion, but does give Joseph an inhaler that his mother had provided police. 

The door was closed again, shutting Joseph in with his own vomit, where he would remain -- still complaining of the heat -- for another 23 minutes, at one point, appearing to throw up once more. 

Joseph was finally released after a total of 56 minutes inside the car. He was not placed under arrest or charged with a crime.

Once officers let Joseph go and returned to sit in the car he'd repeatedly thrown up, one can be heard saying, "That motherfucker."

Joseph's suit names four St. Paul Police Department employees -- Bobby Donahue, Tom Arnold, Mon Notthakun, and Marshall Titus -- as well as the city of St. Paul as plaintiffs. His complaint alleges numerous violations of his rights under the Fourth Amendment (the "unreasonable search and seizure" amendment), and he is seeking "in excess of $50,000," plus punitive damages.