A suburban New York City police sergeant has been indicted on federal civil rights charges after he allegedly used his stun gun multiple times on a handcuffed man in a mental crisis who was being involuntarily taken for medical treatment, prosecutors announced Thursday.
Mario Stewart, a commander on the force at Mount Vernon, shot the man seven times in two minutes, according to the indictment by Sgt. He is accused of violating the man’s constitutional rights by using excessive force.
“Stewart’s alleged conduct not only betrayed his responsibility as an officer to protect his constituents, but also violated the law,” said U.S. Attorney Damien Williams.
Stewart’s lawyer, Kevin Conway, said his client was doing his duty and had not violated anyone’s rights or committed a crime.
“He was simply doing 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 2019 to assist a man who was partially naked and visibly distraught.
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Stewart, who was the supervisor at the scene, ordered the man handcuffed to the ground. Officers then attempted to place him in a “restraint bag” for transportation. But they were only able to partially get him in place, as the man was clinging to a strap on the edge of the sack, according to the indictment.
Stewart told the man to leave, and when he didn’t, fired his stun gun repeatedly, prosecutors said.
At that time the man was on the ground with his hands tied behind his back and his legs secured in a bag.
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Conway said emergency medical personnel had tried unsuccessfully to convince the man to take him for care, and Stewart had no choice but to use non-lethal means.
Stewart, of Brooklyn, pleaded not guilty Thursday before a federal judge in White Plains and was released on personal recognizance, the lawyer said.
In a statement, the administration of Mount Vernon Mayor Shawn Patterson Howard, who took office several months after the incident, said “the alleged conduct that predates the Justice Department charges is abhorrent and undermines the public’s trust in the hardworking 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.