CBS News has learned that the Justice Department is investigating the New York Police Department for a possible pattern of excessive force. The federal investigation comes to light as several NYPD officers prepare to head to court, accused of brutality. CBS News' Jaqueline Adams has the story:
Two months have passed, but Jason Rowley and his fellow Internet entrepreneurs remain traumatized by the events of January 10th. Driving in a trendy New York City neighborhood, the four thought they were being car-jacked.
"The cab tires screeched in front of me and a man jumped out of the car with a gun pointed right at me," recalls Jason.
Trying to escape, Rowley lurched his car backwards, then forwards, but was pinned in by other vehicles. "My window is immediately shattered and a gun put to my head and Im ripped out of the car," he says.
Sheldon Gilbert, who was pulled out of the passenger side, remembers, "I just get punched right in the face and Im down on the ground and Im just being punched and kicked and Im begging for my life."
Lauren Sudeall and Marie Claire Lim were in the back seat. "My life passed before my eyes," says Sudeall.
"I didnt know what they would do to my two male friends, being black," recalls Marie Claire. "I didnt know what they would do to Lauren and myself being female."
And Jason remembers, "One of them actually said something to the effect of, 'You know, hes bleeding pretty badly. We should slow down.'"
Eventually, several uniformed police officers arrived on the scene, but they didnt intervene because this was a routine stop by members of New York Citys Street Crime Unit, the same unit whose officers were acquitted last month of firing 41 bullets at an unarmed West African immigrant.
Police officials would not appear on camera, but a department spokeswoman insisted the officers should be praised because they were doing their job. They had a report that Jason Rowleys car had been stolen. Their computers hadnt been updated, though, with the fact that the car had been recovered and returned.
"I had gone through the necessary steps after it was stolen and had the DAs signature and all of those things," says Jason.
His friends were released after a few hours of questioning, but Rowley had to spend a night in jail.
"All night, while Im in the cell, officers came by saying, 'Boy, 99 out of 100 times, youd be dead. Youre lucky you werent in Harlem,'" Jason says. "Things like that are scarring."
Thats why the four colleagues are suing the Street Crime Unit for false arrest and excessive use of force. They know that racial profiling occurs all across this country,.but because theyre recent graduates of prestigious Ivy League colleges, they think their voices might be heard.
"This is a gross injustice that continues every single day," says Sheldon Gilbert.
Last year, New York City spent 40 million dollars sttling police abuse cases. The city may be safer, but at what cost?