Officials with the city of Barstow, California insisted this week that officers had acted properly when they used force to arrest a pregnant woman who refused to show them her identification, even though the charges were later dismissed.
In police body camera video obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), an officer is responding to an apparent traffic dispute between Charlena Michelle Cooks, who is 8 months pregnant and black, and an unidentified white woman.
The officer first talks to the white woman, who accuses Cooks of acting “all crazy.”
“I don’t see a crime that has been committed,” the officer admits after examining the woman’s car. After promising the woman a police report, the officer heads over to talk to Cooks.
Cooks explains that the argument occurred because the woman disagreed with the way she was driving in the parking lot. Cooks also said that the woman frightened her daughter, who was in second grade.
“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?”
At that point the officer asks for Cooks’ name, but she insists that she does not have to tell him.
“I actually do have the right to ask you for your name,” the officer replies.
“Let me make sure,” Cooks says as she makes a phone call to someone.
The officer says he will give Cooks two minutes to verify his right to ask for her identification. But less than 20 seconds later, the officer and a colleague are performing a painful wristlock takedown on Cooks. The pregnant woman screams as she is forced belly first into the ground.
“Why are you resisting?” the officer demands.
“Please! I’m pregnant!” Cooks exclaims. “Please, stop this!”
ACLU SoCal staff attorney Adrienna Wong pointed out that Cooks had a right to refuse to show her ID.
“It would be a wrongful arrest, but it would be an arrest,” she noted. “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.”
“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,” Wong added.
ACLU SoCal staff attorney Jessica Price observed that Cooks, who is black, was handled very differently than the white woman.
“Imagine getting wrestled to the ground and handcuffed in front of your child’s elementary school,” Price remarked. “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?”
In a separate settlement with ACLU SoCal, the City of Barstow agreed to provide training to its officers after two brothers were arrested for refusing to provide identification. Charges against the brothers were dropped and the city agreed to pay $30,000 in damages.
The charges of resisting arrest against Cooks were also dropped, but the city insisted that it acted properly in that case.
“The Barstow Police Department continues to be proactive in training its officers to assess and handle interactions with emotionally charged individuals while conducting an investigation, for the protection of everyone involved,” the city said in a statement.
“This incident was in no way racially motivated, as implied by the ACLU,” the statement said. “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.”
To make matters worse, Cooks was banned from her daughter’s school until the charges were dismissed. She said that she has not decided whether or not she wants to sue the city. But ultimately, her goal is to move out of Barstow as soon as possible.
“I’m still trying to process everything and get in a good state of mind,” she told the Desert Dispatch. “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.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been that terrified in my life,” Cooks continued. “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?”
Cooks gave birth to a daughter earlier this year, but the violent January arrest still haunts her.
“She was a full-term baby born on March 30,” she said. “We don’t exactly know if anything really happened to her during the incident so I’m just watching her development closely.”
Watch the video of Cooks arrest below, record January 26, 2015.