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Woman in alleged Syracuse police brutality case intends to sue city for $21 million

Uniyah Chatman and her mother outside the Syracuse City Hall.
Ellen Abbott
Uniyah Chatman (left) and her mother outside Syracuse City Hall.

Uniyah Chatman, the 25-year-old woman injured during an arrest in Armory Square two weeks ago, is suing the city of Syracuse for $21 million.

In front of Syracuse City Hall Thursday, Chatman, protected by several large umbrellas beneath an unrelenting cold rain, said her life changed forever when police arrested her for allegedly stealing a tip jar outside Nick's Tomato Pie in Armory Square on January 28.

She said that a police officer threw her against a window and body-slammed her to the ground, leading to several injuries, including a concussion and a jagged gash along her skull.

"It’s been a very hard time," Chatman said. "Basically I’m feeling a lot better. I’m not 100 percent myself. I don’t think I'm ever going to be back to being myself."

Uniyah Chatman was injured during a Syracuse Police Department "use of force incident" in Armory Square.
Courtesy National Action Network Syracuse Chapter
Uniyah Chatman was injured during a Syracuse Police Department "use of force incident" in Armory Square.

Chatman has signed on with civil rights attorney Charles Bonner, who put the city on notice that he intends to file suit in federal court. He cites violations of the Fourth, Seventh and 14th amendments as a basis for his case, likening the officer who arrested Chatman to a pit bull.

"This lady is [5 feet 3 inches], she weighs 130 pounds," Bonner said. "He’s a big grown man with instruments of torture, guns, gloves, he has tasers. He has all kinds of instruments of torture, that he would pick her up, slam her to the ground, break her head like a watermelon and send her into a concussion, that is unacceptable."

Chatman’s mother, Shelly Burke, said the lawsuit was unavoidable.

"I’m very passive, but when I saw how they treated my child I just couldn’t let it go," Burke said. "I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle it, until I got to the hospital and she was on the respirator. That changed things."

Chatman has also filed a complaint with the Civilian Review Board against Officer Leonard Brown. Supporters of Chatman have specific demands beyond the lawsuit. The Reverend H. Bernard Alex of the National Action Network said steps need to be taken regarding the officer involved.

"We demand the firing and prosecution of Officer Leonard Brown and any other officer with multiple complaints and a history of excessive force," the reverend said.

The group is also asking for a complete reorganization of the Syracuse Police Department’s use of force policy, and an examination from an outside entity on the cause of excessive use of force. The police department is conducting an internal investigation of the incident, and is asking the public for any video of the arrest.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.