An Arizona man who was hit in the groin with a pepper ball during an anti-Trump protest is accusing police of using excessive force and violating his rights under the U.S. Constitution.
Josh Cobin, of Chandler, Arizona, filed a complaint in U.S. District Court on Thursday against the Phoenix Police Department, its leaders and the officer who shot him with the projectile amid a clash between local police and demonstrators on August 22, 2017.
Cobin told CBS 5 that he decided to take legal action this week — nearly two years after the incident — after noticing posts online from police officers mocking him for the painful groin injury. Video of the encounter went viral online.
“Honestly, that really was the final straw,” Cobin told the TV station. “It was a projectile the size of a golf ball that was shot at 220 miles an hour from a distance of 20 yards at my groin — twice as painful as getting hit with a baseball in the groin. It was humiliating, and then to see officers posting about it and mocking me was even worse.”
Cobin’s complaint says nearly 900 officers outside the Phoenix Convention Center “conducted an unannounced attack” on him and others who were protesting a speech President Donald Trump was giving. Cobin is the man in the blue shorts in the videos of the clash.
The goal of the protest was to show “strong disagreement with President Trump’s and his supporters’ racist and anti-immigrant policies and views,” the complaint said.
During the demonstration, police “indiscriminately fired harmful pepper spray, gas, pepper bullets and flash-bang canisters into the assembled crowd, which included children, elderly people, disabled people, and pregnant women,” according to the complaint.
Cobin is accusing the police of failing to warn the protesters of an “attack” they knew would cause panic, which resulted in injuries “as well as constitutional violations,” the complaint said. The court filing seeks damages from police and the city to compensate Cobin for “physical injuries and emotional harms,” and for denying him his First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Phoenix police cited the pending legal matter in declining to comment, and the city declined to comment as well, according to CBS 5.
The court filing detailed physical and emotional pain Cobin said he experienced after the pepper ball struck him near his genitals.
Cobin drove himself to an emergency room after he was struck. He was treated for exposure to the chemical agents police had used on the crowd, including cayenne pepper or capsaicin, which caused an allergic reaction on Cobin’s skin for hours, the complaint said.
“I was literally screaming in my car as I was driving because I was covered in pepper gas spray from having shorts,” Cobin told CBS 5.
At the hospital, Cobin had to take a nude detox shower in front of three or four medical staff, resulting in more humiliation, according to the complaint. Cobin said in the complaint that he was severely bruised and in pain as a result of the injury about an inch above his genitals.
Officer Christopher Turiano, named as a defendant in the complaint, fired the pepper ball “with malicious intent to humiliate,” according to the court filing. The police department later wrongly said that Cobin was a member of Antifa in follow up statements on the protest and police response, which “irreparably harmed” his reputation, the complaint said.
The court filing includes exhibits showing social media posts, apparently from multiple police officers, mocking Cobin for the groin injury.
Cobin was arrested after the protest on charges of felony aggravated assault, accused of kicking or throwing cans of tear gas back at police, KTAR reports.
“If the police unlawfully attack me with pepper spray, I have the right to unlawfully defend myself,” Cobin said, according to the Phoenix New Times.
He was later fined and sentenced to community service on a misdemeanor charge, CBS 5 reported.
The ACLU’s Arizona chapter criticized the Phoenix Police Department’s handling of the protest after the department released an internal report on the handling of the demonstration, which the police chief had initially called “textbook perfect,” according to the civil rights group.
“The Phoenix Police Department did not protect the First Amendment rights of protesters and caused many people to go home with cuts, bruises, and other injuries,” ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Kathy Brody said in a 2018 statement. “There are many videos of officers attacking protesters with pepper spray and projectiles at dangerously close range. It is shocking and disheartening that the department determined this excessive use of force was justified.”