Some of the stories that come across the desk of civil rights attorney Jarrett Adams can be both heartbreaking and infuriating. However, he understands the task at hand and is fully committed to seeking justice for those who have been wronged.
This focus comes from firsthand experience. An innocent man convicted of a crime he did not commit, Adams had to learn the law to free himself. He subsequently got his juris doctorate from Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
Adams’ track record since then speaks for itself. He is currently working on three high-profile cases, all of which appear to involve either rogue cops or inadequate police training. Helping his clients obtain compensation and special damages in each case is his top priority.
Case in point: Raheem Bryant was shot in the back and left paralyzed by a Newark, N.J. police officer after joyriding in a stolen car. Adams spoke to Zenger to explain why Officer Xavier Pimentel‘s response didn’t fit the crime. Adams also takes us behind the scenes on two other cases he recently signed on to represent victims of questionable treatment.
Zenger: You recently took on the case of Raheem Bryant who was shot and paralyzed by a Newark police officer. What are the key factors that led to you accepting the case?
Adams: You really gotta evaluate the client and the case. And it goes in that order, because you could have a good case and a bad client, and it can not go well. I take it from that perspective first. When I get a case and I start to read everything, I start to [learn about] the atmosphere of Newark. Stealing cars is like skateboarding down in Louisiana. Stealing cars is like playing off the wall on the south side of Chicago.
That’s just what they do. There is no explanation. It’s the stolen car, joyriding capital of the world. You have a situation with a kid in his early 20s: he sees a lady at a gas station, and he sees the keys in the car; he jumps in the car and takes a joyride in it.
She is mad and upset. She tells an officer, “I just got carjacked.” When you hear carjacked, you’re thinking guns and all that. He wasn’t armed. He was on this joyride, police were…in pursuit and an officer who was technically on but off duty—because in the city of Newark, whenever there is construction work being done, they have to have an officer there to direct traffic.
Little did they know that they were going to have a cowboy that day on that assignment who was listening to his radio. Guess he became bored sitting there. He joins in on the chase unwarranted and unqualified. He gets out of his vehicle, races down the block. He’s the only one [who] deploys and fires his weapon, Percy. He pulls his gun, he fires a shot and he hits the kid in the back. The kid is instantly paralyzed, he loses control of the car and it crashes into an auto-mechanic’s shop.
I tell you all of this in the way of [a] story, but the DOJ [Department of Justice] did an investigation four years prior, and they came out with these results and findings, and they entered into a consent decree where officers would no longer fire at fleeing suspects, no matter if the suspects are armed or not. They aren’t in danger. He wasn’t in danger. The kid was driving away from the officer. The officer got mad and fired a shot that paralyzed him.
We looked at his record. The officer didn’t have [the training] that’s necessary, and he had been in an incident before where he pulled his gun out unwarranted. We got a situation where this kid is paralyzed, and I don’t have to tell you that [state-run] physical therapy places that take care of people that don’t have active limbs—I don’t have to tell you what type of care they give. I didn’t want to send you the pictures, but I have some pictures if you want to see them. He’s developing bed sores that are so humungous, I’m just waiting for a call any day now that he’s fighting for his life from an infection.
Zenger: What do you say to someone that asks why reward someone committing a criminal act?
Adams: Stealing a piece of candy is a criminal act. That’s breaking the law. Does that person deserve to be shot in the back and paralyzed for a non-violent criminal act, and they weren’t armed? In law, we can only deal with the facts and the facts surrounding that law.
Zenger: Do you feel like this was a rogue cop situation, a lack of training or combination of the two?
Adams: It’s a combination of both. What I would say specifically with him [is] there were signs that he was a cowboy that needed to be disciplined and trained, and he wasn’t. What happens when you don’t tell your child they are doing something wrong? They are prone to do it again. That’s why this is on the city. The thing that’s frustrating me is they are out here talking a good game about how much they’ve changed and how good they are now. But you got this boy sitting here, in his 20s with a son, and he can’t do anything, and they are up here trying to dismiss the case on a technicality.
Now every process is slow. We survived the motion to dismiss. The court said there is too much evidence to dismiss; move forward. Now I’m trying to get them to do what’s right. In this case, I’m afraid for him. It’s getting dire.
Zenger: In your opinion, what is proper compensation or retribution for Raheem and his family?
Adams: There has to be a creative structured settlement for him. I’m afraid to put a dollar amount on it until we have a serious conversation about what it would take [in exchange] for the life of a young man, who will be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He’s in his 20s, so if the life expectancy is 60-65 years old—[and] he’s got a kid—so you’re talking about him being taken care of for at least 40 years. Being taken care of means the proper bed, the proper nurse care facility, the proper disability ramps and things like that. And then you have to factor in his son. Something fair and equitable to that. But the problem is they haven’t [provided] a number or [made an] effort to settle this. They are fighting every step of the way to keep certain evidence away from us.
Zenger: This is not the only case you are working on. Can you tell us about some of the other ones?
Adams: Yes, there is a young lady named Chasity Congious. She was pregnant by someone—they don’t know who because due to her mental illness, she would sometimes walk around the neighborhood undressed. Bruh, we got a lot of sickos out here, man. She ends up pregnant. She’s about six months pregnant. When she’s not on her medication, she [will] spazz out and do things, mostly self-harm. Her parents called and said, “Look, she’s not taking her medication. She’s being difficult to deal with. She’s fighting, kicking and biting while we’re trying to get her to the hospital, so she can get on her medication.” Sure enough, this officer comes, and where he probably would have found sympathy if her name was Amanda, he could find none because her name was Chasity.
Instead of taking her to the hospital and getting her on medication and getting her to a facility knowing that she was pregnant, he decides to arrest her. He arrested her like they do so many black kids, and increasingly, black girls. She goes to the county jail. She is not seen by any proper authorities or a court to evaluate her according to the Sandra Bland Act. Here it is: after the Sandra Bland Act, how could this happen? Sandra Bland with her mental illness in jail, and then here it is—you let this girl sit in jail. She goes on a visit with the doctors. The doctors tell you, “She’s about to give birth. She’s not going to be able to communicate with you guys what a contraction is. You gotta pay attention to her.”
She has been in jail for a couple of months now. What do they do, Percy? They put her in a segregation room, that’s what they do. One day, they walk past and notice blood all over the bed sheets and on the floor. They come in. They find the baby [lying] in her jail uniform with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. [It] hadn’t been breathing for four or five minutes. Chasity [lay] there, busted open as a woman from giving birth—she had never given birth before. You know what their response was?
“Well, she didn’t tell anybody. We don’t know why she didn’t get up and knock on the door. We pass and do checks all the time; we didn’t see this.” That’s not what you do when someone warned you [that she] has a mental illness and wouldn’t be able to tell you.
To add to the madness, she asked to go to the funeral. They told her no and [said] they were going to charge her with the death of the baby for not telling them that she was giving birth. Thankfully, after enough media coverage, they dismissed the charges, and she was released from jail on all charges. So [are] you telling me that that baby shouldn’t be alive because she shouldn’t have been in there that long [or] even arrested in the first place? These explanations aren’t good enough anymore. The medical personnel told you that this young girl would not be able to communicate that she was in labor. I think that deserves a higher burden to be met than to place somebody [in] segregation.
Zenger: You also have another case down in my area of New Orleans, correct?
Adams: Yes! They beat the hell out of this man. When I tell you this story—this is only some stuff that a white person could get away with. Two off-duty officers were in a bar. They [got] so hammered that the bartender stopped serving them drinks. She’s serving them shots of water so that they [can] get out of there.
My client, Jorge Gomez, he’s a retired vet who moved to the New Orleans community to care for his mom. His mom had gotten old, was battling dementia, and was falling and things like that. English is not his first language. So he’s finishing up a drink [at] the bar. The bartender knows him because he goes in the bar all the time. When his mom winds down for the evening, he will go there and have a drink. I know you will understand this, being from there: it’s not just vets; people in the community wear army fatigues. He just so happens [to] have on an army fatigue jacket, but it was real. Dude was a gunner in Iraq. He was the real deal. That’s an important part [of] the story, the fact that he was in the military.
These two knuckleheads—they ask him, basically, “What you doing false flagging us?” He said, “What? I don’t understand what you’re saying.” And they were like, “You’re not a damn marine.” They started asking him questions about the service to see if he’s been in service or not. He’s just ignoring them. They snatch the beret off of his head and start a fight. They beat the dude up.
You [can] see the pictures online of how bad they beat him up. He gets in the vehicle, and he’s disoriented. He’s driving…away [to] get home; they’re walking down the block he’s driving down. They see him, they get in front of the car, order him to stop, he gets out, they beat the hell out of him and place him under arrest. They [call] in, and when they [call] in the police, they [give] a special code. When they gave the special code, [police] responded saying, “Officer in need.” They didn’t know that the officer wasn’t in need—the officer just beat the hell out of somebody.
What they found out was—everything that I’m telling you is true—so they were criminally charged, and [the police department] fired these guys. They got the nerve to be telling me and my client, “You’re good; we fired them.” What do you mean we’re good? This [dude’s] back is messed up. He can’t even move his mom around like he used to. It’s disgusting. These officers didn’t even get house arrest. They got nothing. They just lost their job. Percy, let me or you…[whoop] on somebody like that. Those are the three cases I’m currently [working] on.
Going back to your initial question—how do I take these cases? I take them [based on] the client and…the case facts. You can have the right case and the wrong client; you can have the right client and the wrong case. All three of these cases are disgusting and heartbreaking.
This article was first edited by Siân Speakman and Matthew B. Hall.