Police station sculpture

"The Thin Blue Line," a welded stainless steel sculpture at police headquarters, 200 W. Grace St.

A chaotic exchange involving more than a dozen Richmond police officers and Virginia Union University student Maurice Neblett left him bruised, swollen and shaken last year, according to a $2.3 million civil suit filed last week.

Neblett was falling asleep in bed around 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2014, when officers in pursuit of marijuana kicked in his door with a warrant listing a non-existent address, the suit states.

The officers placed Neblett in a chokehold, the account continues, and “proceeded to strike the plaintiff with their fists, feet, knees and blunt instruments which included, among interest and belief, the butt of a handgun.”

Richmond police spokesman Gene Lepley declined an interview request, citing department policy against commenting on pending legal matters.

Neblett at the time lived at 531 W. Bacon St., building two, apartment 2120; the warrant was secured for 601 W. Bacon St., building two, apartment 2120, the suit states.

An officer obtained the search warrant after saying he had smelled marijuana in the area. The officer said he spent about a month watching the home, said Jonathan Arthur of the firm Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, who is representing Neblett.

“After a 30-day investigation I would expect that they would get the address correct,” Arthur said.

No marijuana was seized from the home, although police did take a lawfully purchased and legally registered firearm, he said.

After what Neblett described as five to six minutes of pummeling, an officer with a shaved head and scar underneath his eye whispered in Neblett’s ear, ‘Who has the most power, us, or the Bloods?’ the suit states.

He then told Neblett, “We should have done this to your brother but it does not matter because he will be gone for a very long time. You will too,” according to the complaint.

Neblett says that he is not and has never been affiliated with the street gang. Now 25, he is pursuing criminal justice studies at VUU. He had applied to the Richmond Sheriff’s Office before the incident, Arthur said.

Neblett asked the officers to take him to VCU Medical Center for treatment after the incident.

“He suffered substantial bruising and swelling,” Arthur said. “We have reason to believe he was violently beaten.”

After making the request, Neblett said he overheard an officer ask his subordinates who wanted to be an “assaultee.” Neblett was charged with the felony assault of two officers.

Those charges were dismissed within a month of his arrest, but his lease was terminated and he was barred from the apartment complex following the incident.

In the ensuing months Neblett says he has suffered from anxiety, post-traumatic stress, loss of sleep and a “profound and insurmountable loss of trust in the state, the city and their law enforcement officials,” the suit states.

The seven-count complaint includes allegations of negligence; malicious prosecution; assault; battery; false imprisonment; and unlawful search.

Arthur said he has obtained limited information about the incident by filing open records requests with the department. He hopes more details will emerge in court.

“I think people absolutely have a right to know what’s being done in their name behind closed doors over a plant,” Arthur said.

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