By Matt Kiernan
CCSU poet-in-residence and associate professor of English Ravi Shankar made a trip to Manhattan, N.Y. in July, not realizing he would face blatant racism and spend time in jail for a mistaken identity.
He is now preparing a mistaken identity lawsuit against the City of New York and the New York City Police Department for $10 million.
In the claim against the city and police department, the nature of the claim is to recover money damages for pecuniary loss, defamation of character, conscious pain and suffering and related damages for the recklessness and carelessness of both.
“What happened to the professor goes against all of the rights and protections for all the people of this great country,” said Shankar’s attorney Bruce Baron of Baron Associates in Brooklyn, N.Y. “Police acted with the utmost disrespect and carelessness.”
Shankar claimed he is a victim of racial profiling at the hands of NYPD and endured unnecessary time in holding after police arrested him with a warrant intended for another Ravi Shankar.
“I want to tell my story to help others who may have gone or will go through the same sort of thing,” said Shankar.
CCSU’s Shankar found himself in Manhattan on the night of July 10 to promote his online journal of art and literature drunkenboat.com where he spent the night at a Chelsea Gallery and had dinner with fellow writers and visual artists. Afterwards he and his cousin decided it was time to drive home back to Connecticut.
While turning onto 6th Avenue, a police car flashed its lights and an officer on a megaphone asked him to pull over. The officer then walked up to his car with a flashlight and asked for his license and registration and whether he was drinking that night.
Shankar said that he had a couple glasses of wine a few hours before and was fine and asked why he was being pulled over, which, according to Shankar, caused the officer to become irritable. Shankar said the officer told him he would “find out later.” After two other officers arrived, Shankar was given sobriety tests, such as walking a straight line and a breathalyzer and passed.
“[An officer] came back after talking with the other officers and said, ‘I have good news and bad news. You passed the test but there’s a warrant out for your arrest,’” explained Shankar. The warrant was out for a Ravi Shankar who was caucasian, 5’10” and weighed 140 pounds, whereas professor Shankar is of Indian descent, 6’2” and weighs 200 pounds.
“It’s always a great day when you can bag a sand nigger,” said one of the officers, Shankar alleged, after he was handcuffed. When he arrived at the precinct he tried to explain the man they were looking for wasn’t him where the officer allegedly said, “Tough shit. Talk to the judge.”
Shankar was sent to the 14th precinct in Midtown and spent some time in a holding cell with around 30 men who he believed were in holding for more serious crimes. He was told he’d have to wait until the next morning and was transported to a communal jail cell after being chained to six other men and teased by other officers singing “Here Comes the Bride.”
All of Saturday passed by without Shankar’s name being called to see a judge and was allowed a phone call to his wife to tell her where he was. The cell he stayed in was of bare concrete walls, three concrete benches, an open-air urinal and an atmosphere that made it almost impossible to sleep.
Sunday morning he was moved to another cell where his name was called to see a judge.
After using a public defender to explain that the warrant was for a different man, the judge was upset that he wasn’t using a hired attorney, according to Shankar. He was told he’d have to pay a $75 fine and all charges would be dismissed. He paid and went home.
Shankar has one year and three months to have a suit settled and said he and his lawyer are seriously considering it. Shankar expects to receive much less than the $10 million he plans to file for, with an estimated $10,000 payout.
Shankar is on a sabbatical for the fall semester working on his book of nature and perception poems Seamless Matter and will return during the spring semester and spend time in Cypress, Greece to work at the CCSU partnered university Eastern Mediterranean University.