Officials in Barstow, Calif., after looking at body-cam footage of a January altercation involving a pregant woman, are maintaining that the woman “actively resisted arrest,” the Desert Dispatch reports. However, Charlena Michelle Cooks, who was eight months pregnant at the time of the incident, said that she had never been so “terrified” in her life. The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California released the video last week.
The incident unfolded in January as Cooks dropped off her daughter, a second-grader, at Crestline Elementary School. Cooks says she got involved in a “petty” argument with a school employee in the school parking lot, prompting a police response.
The officer can be heard on video speaking to the unidentified school employee, who accuses Cooks of acting “all crazy,” before acknowledging that he didn’t “see a crime that has been committed.” He promises the woman, whose identification and name he did not request, a police report before walking over to speak to Cooks.
Cooks tells the officer her side of the story, saying that the woman frightened her daughter.
“She called the police for whatever reason, I don’t know,” Cooks says. “Should I feel threatened by her because she’s white? Because she’s white and she’s making threats to me?”
The officer asks Cooks for identification but she refuses, saying that she is not required to.
“I actually do have the right to ask you for your name,” the officer insists.
“Let me make sure,” Cooks counters, using her cellphone to call someone.
The officer initially says that he would give Cooks two minutes to confirm his right to ask for ID, but after interrupting the phone conversation twice in less than a minute, the officer, along with another colleague, takes Cooks to the ground, belly first, in a wristlock.
“Please! I’m pregnant! Please stop this!” Cooks can be heard screaming while on the ground.
Officers eventually put her in the back of a cruiser and go through her belongings in search of ID.
Cooks was charged with resisting arrest, but a judge ultimately dismissed the charges.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been that terrified in my life,” Cooks told the Dispatch. “I never saw that coming. I told him I was pregnant so he could proceed with caution. That didn’t happen, and the first thing I thought was I didn’t want to fall to the ground. I felt the pressure on my stomach from falling, and I was calling for help. But those guys are supposed to help me. But who is supposed to help me when they are attacking me?”
An ACLU lawyer explained that Cooks had the right to refuse to identify herself.
“It would be a wrongful arrest, but it would be an arrest. … Even if an officer is conducting an investigation, in California, unlike some other states, he can’t just require a person to provide ID for no reason,” attorney Adrienna Wong said in a press release. “Officers in California should not be using the obstruction law, Penal Code 148, to arrest someone for failing to provide ID, when they can’t find any other reason to arrest them.”
“Imagine getting wrestled to the ground and handcuffed in front of your child’s elementary school,” another ACLU staff attorney, Jessica Price, said. “Imagine interacting with other parents afterwards. Imagine what kids who saw the incident tell your child. And if you think the whole incident happened because of your race, how does that impact your view of police?”
City officials insist that race was not a factor, saying, “This incident was in no way racially motivated, as implied by the ACLU. Barstow is a racially diverse community, as is our Police Department, and we affirm our Police Department’s commitment to protect and serve all of our residents.”
As for Cooks, who later gave birth to a full-term daughter in March, she just wants to get out of Barstow because she doesn’t feel safe anymore. “I’m still trying to process everything and get in a good state of mind,” she said. “I’m in a very fearful state of mind. Barstow is so small and I used to be comfortable living here. Not anymore. I really felt like after all that happened, I had some of my everyday freedoms taken from me.”
Cooks also says that while her daughter seems to be OK, she is monitoring the baby’s development in case anything happened to the child during the arrest.
Read more at the Desert Dispatch.