Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed Against Police in Needham, Mass.

Police Accountability, Racial Justice

Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed By Black Man Falsely Accused By Police in Needham, Mass.


Today, Marvin Henry, a Black father of four, filed a federal lawsuit against the Town of Needham, Massachusetts, alleging that the Needham Police Department violated his civil rights in January 2020, when police officers racially profiled Mr. Henry, and subjected him to detention, handcuffing, and humiliation on the Town’s main street because of alleged shoplifting. The federal civil rights complaint was filed against the municipality, the police chief, and four individual police officers. 

Although Needham police has conceded that Mr. Henry was entirely innocent of shoplifting, the Town refused to admit wrongdoing. Instead, as verified by an independent investigation, police officers falsely attributed criminal conduct to Mr. Henry in a report later published on the Town website and concocted outrageous theories of criminality to try tojustify their unlawful arrest. 

“As the father of four Black sons, my story is about more than just that day,” said Mr. Henry. “I want my sons to have every opportunity – not spend their lives looking over their shoulders, worried they’ll be harassed, humiliated, or handcuffed because of the color of their skin. I know it is my responsibility, as a father and as a citizen, to stand up and speak out.”

“What happened to Mr. Henry is unconscionable,” said Lauren Sampson, Staff Attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights and co-counsel to Mr. Henry in this police accountability matter. “For too long, our Black neighbors have been forced to endure ritual and routine indignities at the hands of police: from supposedly random ‘stop and frisks’to illegal handcuffings and wrongful detentions because they allegedly ‘fit the profile’ of a suspect. Enough is enough. We are calling on the Town of Needham to both make Mr. Henry whole and to institute lasting, systemic changes to ensure no person is ever humiliated and robbed of dignity and bodily integrity simply because of the color of their skin.” 

Lawyers for Civil Rights and their pro-bono co-counsel, the law firm of WilmerHale, sent a demand letter to the Town of Needham on Mr. Henry’s behalf in July 2020. Following a public outcry, the Town retained an independent investigator to review the incident, while simultaneously launching an internal affairs investigation of the police department. Although both investigations acknowledged Mr. Henry had been treated unfairly — for example, the independent investigation concluded that Mr. Henry had been unconstitutionally pat-frisked and that the internal affairs investigation was “deficient in several key areas” — the Town has yet to either make amends to Mr. Henry or to institute meaningful policy and personnel reforms. 

“Police misconduct, including the unwarranted use of violence against so many Black people, is simply wrong, both legally and morally. This lawsuit seeks to hold Needham and its police department accountable for violating Mr. Henry’s constitutional rights, and stop their mistreatment of Needham’s communities of color in the future,” said Timothy Perla, partner at WilmerHale and co-counsel to Mr. Henry.  

Mr. Henry is being represented pro bono by WilmerHale, an international law firm long involved in equal justice issues, and Lawyers for Civil Rights.  

The complaint is available here.