The woman at the center of a polarizing arrest at the Saraland Waffle House last year has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the restaurant chain, alleging she and two friends were unfairly treated and racially targeted by local employees because they are African Americans.
After Chikesia Clemons was arrested in April 2018, cell phone video taken by a member of her group made national news overnight. In the footage, Clemons, who is black, is seen being aggressively taken to the ground by two white officers, and during a subsequent scuffle, one of her breasts became exposed.
Waffle House employees and Clemons’s group have always had differing accounts of the events. The staff claimed the group showed up intoxicated, one of Clemons’s friends brought in an outside beverage and refused to throw it away and that Clemons threatened employees.
However, Clemons maintains manager Goldie Mincey ordered a subordinate to call the police on the group less than two minutes after they arrived and then proceeded to instigate an argument — allegedly telling them they needed to “know [their] place.” She denies making any kind of threat and says she was only trying to get Waffle House’s corporate contact information.
Clemons was arrested after Saraland Police Department officer Christopher Ramey allegedly heard her tell an employee she would “beat [her] ass.” She was ultimately charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. She was convicted of both in Saraland Municipal Court last year, but only one of those was upheld during an appeal to Mobile County Circuit Court.
In August, a jury acquitted Clemons of disorderly conduct, but found her guilty of resisting arrest. She was sentenced to a year probation, but is appealing that conviction again.
Benjamin Crump, one of the attorneys who filed a federal civil lawsuit against Waffle House on Clemons’s behalf, said this entire ordeal was the result of staff members “falsely reporting” his client and her friends were drunk and then calling the police “based on racial animus.”
“[This is] based on a pattern and practice of racism and discirmination against African Americans that led to Chikesia Clemons — an unarmed black woman — being assaulted, battered, body slammed, choked and disrobed at the Waffle House in Saraland, Alabama,” Crump said. “We will not let this be swept under the rug, and that’s why we’re standing here seeking justice for Chikesia Clemons and to hold the Waffle House accountable.”
Because of the alleged actions of Waffle House employees, the lawsuit accuses the company of violating Clemons’s civil rights by discriminating against her and her friends in a restaurant that’s open to the public, intentionally inflicting emotional distress and “maliciously” trying to have them arrested.
In addition to the events on the night of her arrest, Clemons’s complaint blames Waffle House for inaccurate testimony employees gave during her trial. It specifically points to questions prosecutor Jeff Perloff asked about a shooting at a Nashville Waffle House that happened just hours after Clemons’s arrest.
At trial, though, Perloff represented that the incident in Nashville had taken place the night before her arrest, and asked three Waffle House employees on the stand whether the Nashville shooting impacted their state of mind on the night of Clemons’s arrest. All three said it had, which would have been impossible.
Waffle House has yet to respond to news of the lawsuit, but in the initial aftermath of Clemons’s arrest in 2018, the company stood by its employes and said “police intervention was appropriate.”
The federal lawsuit was filed in Atlanta last week. Crump, who represents many black clients in cases of alleged racial discrimination, told reporters outside of the courthouse Clemons’s incident at the Waffle House is part of a larger pattern of “bold discrimination against people of color” in the U.S.
“It is almost as if there is, from our leadership in this country, a license for discrimination and racism, whether it’s in police departments or in our businesses and restaurants. We’re better than this,” Crump said. “Chikesia Clemons deserves all the respect and consideration of any other customer who walks into the Waffle House. If you don’t respect our black women then do not expect our black dollars.”
In the lawsuit, Crump is asking the court to require Waffle House to adopt and enforce polices that “end racial discrimination at its resturants” and to allow an outside group to monitor their implementation for three years. He is also seeking compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorneys fees.
In a separate sworn statement, Clemons lays out some of the things she’s gone through since the arrest — a list that includes losing her job, moving to Florida, becoming a target of online threats and harassment and suffering from embarrassment.
She also claims to have developed lasting mental and physical injuries including back pain, headaches, depression, PTSD, nightmares and insomnia.
In addition to the federal civil rights lawsuit against the Waffle House, Clemons is also expected to move forward with a civil lawsuit against the city of Saraland in state court, and has already filed a notice of claim with the city to begin that process.
Crump is representing her in both cases along with attorneys from the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls.
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