A former Philadelphia police commander, who was removed from the force and charged with assault after he was captured on video beating a protester with his baton last summer, has been sued in federal court by a South Jersey woman who alleges he attacked her during a protest.
Cayley Cohan, 21, of Audubon, filed a lawsuit Friday against Joseph Bologna, alleging he tackled her to the ground after a brief exchange during a racial justice protest on June 2, 2020. The suit, filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, also names police officer Lezlie Winters and the City of Philadelphia.
Bologna’s attorney, Fortunato N. Perri Jr., declined to comment. Winters also declined to comment. The city and Police Department do not comment on pending litigation.
Cohan was walking past Bologna at 10th and Market Streets in Center City when her foot brushed his bike, the suit says. Video shows Bologna then grabbed her arm and said, “You kicked my stuff,” to which she responded, “F— you, I didn’t touch your stuff.”
Bologna then threw his bike to the side and lunged at Cohan, according to the video, tackling her. The lawsuit alleges he caused bruises and scrapes on her legs. She was then arrested, handcuffed, and taken to a van by Winters.
Cohan, who had recently broken her wrist and was wearing a soft cast under her sweatshirt, alleges that during her arrest, the cast was removed, and Winters “excessively and unreasonably tightened the handcuffs,” causing her to “lose feeling and circulation in her hands and arms.” The suit states that Winters ignored Cohan’s complaints about the pain. About 10 minutes later, other officers loosened the handcuffs.
Cohan was taken to a Northeast Philadelphia holding facility, where she was denied water, even after vomiting twice due to dehydration, she alleges. The next day, she was transferred to Philadelphia Police Headquarters in Center City, where she was held for 17 hours before being charged with felony aggravated assault, simple assault, and disorderly conduct.
The suit claims that Winters told her supervisor that Cohan kicked her, spat on her face, and kicked Bologna’s bike repeatedly. Once the District Attorney’s Office was provided with video of the incident, all charges were withdrawn, the suit says.
“I was banging on the back of the cop car van for at least 15 minutes, begging them to come loosen my handcuffs … [and] they basically laughed in my face,” Cohan told The Inquirer last year after the incident. “I spent over a day and a half in jail with no cast. I had to keep my arm as safe as I could.”
Cohan’s lawyer, Alan L. Yatvin of the Center City-based firm Greenblatt, Pierce, Funt and Flores, said Cohan did not suffer long-term physical damage from the incident but remains startled.
“The shock at how you could go from an innocent, simple situation to ending up on the ground and then in the back of a vehicle with cuffs, unable to feel your hands, then hours in custody — it was sobering and frightening,” Yatvin said.
“What was so startling was this was at a protest about police excess and what had happened across the country,” he said.
Cohan is seeking damages greater than $150,000 for physical and mental pain, unlawful detention, legal and medical expenses, and violation of civil rights.
Bologna, a 31-year Philadelphia police veteran, made headlines in June 2020, after a video of him beating a Temple University student with a baton was shared widely on social media. Police initially arrested the student after the June 1 melee and accused him of assaulting an officer. But after the video surfaced, the District Attorney’s Office dropped those charges and moved to prosecute Bologna instead.
Earlier this year, a Philadelphia judge threw out those assault charges against Bologna, stating that his conduct on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway had not amounted to a crime. The District Attorney’s Office refiled charges, and in August, a separate judge reinstated charges of simple assault and possessing an instrument of crime.
The lawsuit states that the “City of Philadelphia has encouraged, tolerated, ratified and has been deliberately indifferent” to Bologna’s previous instances of misconduct and should have provided different training, supervision, investigation, or discipline against him prior to the actions he took against Cohan.