Rowan students held at gunpoint in fall of 2018 file federal lawsuit

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Two Rowan University students held at gunpoint by the Glassboro Police Department in the fall of 2018 filed separate civil rights lawsuits against the borough and police department on Friday, according to court documents.

Altaif Hassan and Giavanna Roberson claim their civil rights were violated by the department in use of excessive force when they were stopped in the parking lot near the Recreation Center and Mimosa Hall at around 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 21, 2018, and held at gunpoint for about an hour. Hassan was a 21-year-old senior and Roberson was an 18-year-old freshman at the time of the incident.

In initial statements following the incident, the Glassboro Police Department claimed the two students were stopped after a bystander who witnessed a shoplifting incident claimed the suspect possessed a firearm.

According to the lawsuit, the stop was a result of a miscommunication on the Glassboro PD’s part, as the suspect of the shoplifting incident was being pursued by Officer Richard Henry. During the pursuit, Henry radioed in the description of the suspect’s vehicle. Officer Sean Aitken spotted Hassan’s vehicle. Aitken, along with other heavily armed patrolmen drew their firearms on Hassan and Roberson, apparently unaware the suspect was already being pursued, according to the complaint.

No weapon was found in Hassan’s car.

The incident resulted in an outpouring of criticism in the Rowan community, as students voiced their concerns on what they believed was an incident of racially motivated policing.

Glassboro Police Chief Franklin Brown said in a statement at the time of the incident that borough officers “utilized their training and followed established protocol to ensure the safety of everyone involved in this incident.”

The four-count lawsuit includes allegations of violations of unreasonable and excessive force, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, training, and supervision, and violations of the state’s civil rights act.

The Glassboro Police Department subsequently released the officers’ body camera footage from the incident “in the spirit of complete transparency.”

The lawsuit names the Glassboro Police Department, its police chief, and eight of the officers who were involved in the incident.

The IGWE Firm did not immediately return requests for comment regarding their clients.

The police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

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