No legal basis for Virginia state soldier to arrest black woman who was pulled from car
Dinner couldn’t have gone better for Juanisha Brooks, who was celebrating her sister’s 37th birthday.
They made up for it by having finger food at a restaurant near the Maryland National Harbor.
Early on the morning of March 6, Brooks was on her way home when she noticed emergency lights dragging her onto I-495.
Believing it to be an ambulance in distress, she pulled into the shoulder of a freeway exit ramp near her home in Alexandria, Va., About 15 minutes from the location. where she had dined, Brooks said in an interview Tuesday.
It was past 2 a.m.
Instead, Virginia State Soldier Robert G. Hindenlang arrested her, but she said she didn’t know why despite asking him to.
A public prosecutor subsequently concluded that there was no basis for stopping the traffic.
Yet Brooks found herself stuck in the dark and cold.
“To my surprise, it immediately escalated,” said Brooks, 34, a black woman who works for the Department of Defense.
Hindenlang repeatedly asked him to get out of his vehicle without initially providing an explanation, the dashcam video shows.
“What made you stop me?” Brooks asked.
“Can you come out and I’ll show you,” Hindenlang replied, according to the dashcam video.
When she was not out of the car, Hindenlang, who has been a soldier for 24 years, unlocked Brooks’ door and dragged her out of the car. He then forced her against the vehicle and handcuffed her.
Brooks tried to grab his cell phone, but it fell out of his hands during the fight.
“It was my lifeline for recording what was going on. When it fell, I was really scared for my life and I really thought I was going to die, ”she said. “I felt so helpless. All I could think of was Sandra Bland and Philando Castile.”
Bland, a black woman, was found hanged in a Texas jail cell in July 2015, days after being arrested during a traffic stop. Castile, a black man, was fatally shot by a Minnesota police officer during a traffic stop in July 2016.
“I always thought the police were there to serve and protect. But now I don’t believe it,” Brooks said. “Every instance where I could have been protected, he chose to harm.”
After refusing a breathalyzer test, Hindenlang said he accused him of driving under the influence, according to the dashcam audio.
Brooks was taken to Fairfax County Jail, where she was given a breathalyzer test that showed a blood alcohol level of 0.0, according to a Virginia State Police investigation report.
She has been charged with escaping a misdemeanor, obstructing justice, reckless driving and not having the headlights on, a spokesperson for the Virginia State Police said.
Fairfax Commonwealth attorney Steve Descano dismissed all charges against Brooks on April 16 and called on Virginia State Police to investigate the internal matters.
“It is disgusting and unacceptable for a member of our community to fear for their safety during a routine road stop,” he said in a statement.
In a letter to the commander of the State Police’s Office of Internal Affairs division, Descano wrote that after reviewing the dashcam video, “it appears that the arrest was without a proper legal basis” given a recent change in the law prohibiting shooting of people. for the dark taillights and that the video “does not provide a factual basis to support the warrants or subpoenas issued”.
“There is a lot to the dashcam footage, the written reports of the Troopers and the impeachment rulings that give me pause,” Descano wrote, according to a copy of the letter provided to NBC News by Descano’s office. .
Hindenlang, 49, could not be reached immediately at the numbers listed for him.
Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said Hindenlang and a trainee saw Brooks driving without headlights or taillights, tailing off and making dangerous lane changes, “which is often consistent with driving under the influence “.
“Brooks has been taken into custody for his continued refusal to comply with the soldier’s demands,” Geller said in a statement.
Descano found that neither the statuses of the headlights nor the taillights had been violated, said his spokesman, Benjamin Shnider.
Brooks said she filed a formal complaint against the Virginia State Police, but there is no record of this. Geller refuted the claim.
“The state police learned of her concerns through a third party and took it upon us to contact them and follow up on their concerns,” she said. “It was after this conversation took place that the state police self-initiated an internal administrative review and an investigation into the traffic stop.”
Geller said the administrative investigation was ongoing.
Dennis Kenney, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and a former police officer, said pretext traffic stops were problematic for a number of reasons.
“The whole idea of the pretext stops: that I stop you on a fragile traffic requirement so that I can actually explore other things,” he said. Police often use such checks as a justification for searching cars, he said.
The pretext is subject to such discretion, Kenney said, that a lot of bias can creep its way. Pretextual traffic stops are often disproportionately applied to black and Latin people and in poorer neighborhoods, he said.
This is why some advocates are asking the police not to commit traffic violations at all, Kenney said.
“There is a movement to restrict traffic law enforcement,” he said, as is the question of whether the police should respond to people suspected of having a mental crisis.
Brooks said she had bruised her hand and arm and that the traffic stop could have affected her career and top-secret security clearance. She said she paid a lawyer thousands of dollars to represent her.
“I haven’t slept a full night since March. Even last night I had nightmares about the police,” she said. “All I can replay is the incident happening again.”