A civil rights attorney from Tallahassee joined family and friends of Chikesia Clemons in Mobile Wednesday to denounce her April 22 arrest at the Waffle House in Saraland.
Footage of Clemons’ arrest posted to social media has gone viral across the country and many have questioned the use of force by Saraland police officers. On the video, three white officers are seen tackling Clemons, who is black, to handcuff her.
Clemons’ family has maintained she was only trying to file a corporate complaint after a disagreement with a Waffle House employee overcharging for plastic utensils, but SPD claims witness statements indicate Clemons was intoxicated, threatening the staff and using profanity.
They say Clemons was tackled because she was resisting arrest and refusing to comply with instructions given by the responding officers.
However, in a press conference Wednesday morning, attorney Benjamin Crump called the incident unacceptable and called for an independent investigation into Clemons’ treatment by the police.
“It is unacceptable the way the Waffle House corporation and Saraland Police Department handled this matter from beginning to end,” he said. “It’s unacceptable how they assaulted this unarmed black women, how they threatened this unarmed black woman, how they choked this unarmed black woman and how they body slammed this unarmed black woman.”
Specifically, Crump asked for the Alabama Bureau of Investigation — now a branch of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) — the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney Richard Moore’s office to investigate the arrest.
As of now, the only investigation that has been or is being conducted is SPD’s internal investigation, which Crump said concerns him, Clemons’ family and other witnesses he says contradict SPD’s narrative.
Crump released a copy of those witness statements following Wednesday’s press conference, and they do appear to paint a different picture from the synopsis of witness interviews provided by SPD Detective Brian Mims earlier this week.
In signed affidavits, Heater Snow and Megan Sullivan both said there were at the restaurant that morning and acknowledged there was a disagreement and some shouting between Clemons’ group and the Waffle House employees.
However, they said after the group made moves to leave the restaurant, Clemons returned and began asking about a phone number for a supervisor so she could report how she and her friends were treated.
Snow said Clemons’ voice was “not in a threatening manner” and the waitress was “just as loud.” Snow claims at one point the waitress told Clemons, “You need to know your place, you’re a customer.”
Both women said they didn’t hear anyone mention anything about a gun or any other kind of weapon as the SPD claims one of their witnesses stated. They also each wrote that the level of response from the SPD officers who arrived on the scene was unwarranted, in their opinion.
“The first officer came in he went straight for [Clemons], pushed her against the glass window and sat her down by force. He did not say anything to her nor did he extend her the courtesy of asking her to step outside so he could understand what was going on,” Snow wrote. “The way they tossed her to the ground was extremely hard and was completely unnecessary.”
Snow made similar comments on a Facebook post the day after the actual incident took place, and screenshots of that exchange have been widely circulated since. Lagniappe reached out to Snow earlier this week but has not received a response.
Both women also seemed to criticize the effort police put into trying to discern both sides of the story that morning, with Snow writing “it was clear to me the officer decided well before he arrived on the scene that he was going to arrest the lady.”
In a response to these new witness statements, an SPD official said at least one of the women who submitted statements to Crump’s team had declined to be interviewed by detectives and referred questions back to the information released at their press conference Monday.
Saraland Mayor Howard Rubenstein and SPD Chief J.C. West have continued to stand by the officers involved in Clemons’ arrest, but have not disclosed the names of the officers citing concerns with “officer safety.”
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