MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. — A police sergeant in a New York City suburb has been indicted on federal civil rights charges, accused of using his stun gun multiple times on a handcuffed man in mental crisis who was being involuntarily taken for medical treatment, prosecutors announced Thursday.
Sgt. Mario Stewart, a commander on the force in Mount Vernon, fired his Taser at the man seven times in two minutes, according to the indictment. He is charged with violating the person’s constitutional rights by using excessive force.
“Stewart’s alleged conduct not only betrayed his duty as an officer to protect those under his charge but also violated the law,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.
Kevin Conway, Stewart’s attorney, said his client was doing his duty and did not violate anyone’s rights or commit a crime.
“He merely was discharging his duty in responding to a mental health call for an individual who was in an agitated mental and physical state,” Conway said.
The sergeant and other officers were dispatched to a parking lot in March of 2019 to assist a man who was partially naked and appeared to be in distress.
Stewart, who was the supervisor at the scene, gave an order for the man to be handcuffed and taken down to the ground. Officers then tried to put him in a “restraint bag” for transportation. But they were only able to get it partially in place, according to the indictment, because the man was clinging to a strap on the side of the sack.
Stewart told the man to let go, and when he didn’t, fired his stun gun repeatedly, prosecutors said.
At the time, the man was on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back and his legs secured in the bag.
Conway said emergency medical personnel had unsuccessfully tried to get the man to agree to be transported for care, and Stewart had no choice but to use nonlethal means.
Stewart, of Brooklyn, pleaded not guilty at an appearance before a federal judge in White Plains on Thursday and was released on a personal bond, the lawyer said.
In a statement, the administration of Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard, who took office several months after the incident, said “the alleged conduct predicating the Department of Justice’s charges is abhorrent and erodes the public’s trust in the hard-working men and women of the Mount Vernon Police Department.”
Mount Vernon is about 15 miles north of midtown Manhattan.
Emails seeking comment were sent to the police department and the police union.