There were five armed court police officers and a second metal detector outside of Mobile County Circuit Judge Brandy Hambright’s courtroom Monday — all for a pair of misdemeanor charges. Next door, as an attempted murder trial was being heard, there were no such additional security measures.
That uptick in security, the protestors on Government Street and an entire jury pool being scrapped were the latest developments in the criminal prosecution of Chikesia Clemons, who was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after a controversial arrest at a Saraland Waffle House in 2018.
Clemons’ arrest on April 22, 2018, made national news after a Snapchat video of the incident went viral. During the arrest, Clemons — a black woman — was taken to the ground by three white officers from the Saraland Police Department (SPD), and during a subsequent scuffle, one of her breasts was exposed. The incident drew national attention and brought national civil rights figures such as Rev. Al Sharpton to Mobile.
The basis for the charges against her stem from an alleged observation made by SPD Officer Christopher Ramey, who testified to hearing Clemons tell a Waffle House employee she would “beat [her] ass” during an argument that supposedly started over a 50-cent charge for plastic utensils. Ramey said that phrase made him believe Clemons was the aggressor and prompted his attempt to arrest her.
After initially refusing to name the officers involved out of concern for their safety, SPD identified Ramey as well as officers Bryson McDaniel and Sam Ellison earlier this year. None have faced any kind of disciplinary action, and Saraland city officials have stood by their actions since the incident occurred.
On the other hand, Clemons and her supporters have continued to maintain she was a victim of racial profiling and police brutality — even after she was convicted of both criminal charges the city brought against her during a bench trial before Saraland Municipal Judge Mark Erwin last summer.
At the conclusion of that trial, Clemons was sentenced to a year of informal probation and fined $400.
However, defense attorney Marcus Foxx quickly appealed Clemons’ case to circuit court, which means it will now be heard by a jury of her peers instead of an appointed city judge. So far, the appeals process to get her case to this point has been somewhat unusual when compared to other misdemeanor cases.
For starters, a gag order entered early in the process has restricted public comments about the case. It also derailed a press conference Benjamin Crump — an attorney representing Clemons in a planned civil action case — attempted to hold last week even though he’s not involved in her criminal case.
Court filings also indicate there has been friction between Foxx and city prosecutor Jeff Perloff for more than a year over the disclosure of evidence throughout the municipal trial and in part of the pre-trial proceedings in state court. Foxx has alleged “prosecutorial misconduct” for what he believes was an intentional effort to suppress “additional footage” captured by Waffle House cameras on April 22, 2018.
Foxx claims, despite repeatedly asking for all of the footage the prosecution possessed, he didn’t know about this particular footage until after Clemons’ conviction. He argued those recordings could show “different vantage points,” “communications between law enforcement and witnesses” and “video depicting the identity of several witnesses previously withheld from the defendant.”
A motion was filed to dismiss the case in state court because, according to Foxx, the conviction in the lower court should be invalidated by the city withholding that footage from the defense. Hambright denied the motion, though she did order the city to let Foxx view “any and all Waffle House video.”
At the beginning of the scheduled trial this week, Perloff and Foxx spent hours striking and seating the jurors for Clemons’ appeal. Eventually, Hambright cleared the public and media from the courtroom so jurors could be interviewed individually, and the public was excluded from that point forward.
The attorneys and Hambright then spent more than nine hours over two days interviewing jurors one by one, only to throw the entire jury pool out Tuesday morning without any explanation.
As of this publication’s press deadline on Aug. 20, no reason had been given for the decision, and neither side has been able to discuss the jury selection process because the case is still under a gag order.
While it’s unclear why some of the additional steps have been taken in regard to court security and the jury selection process, it’s worth noting local and national media attention has likely played a role in turning what would normally have been a routine case into a controversial, high-profile affair.
Outside of the lingering jury issues, attorneys are still waiting on a confirmation about what testimony Hambright will allow. The city has pushed to focus only on what officer Ramey did or didn’t hear once police arrived, but Foxx has argued that jurors should hear the context of what led up to that moment.
Foxx has also filed a motion seeking to prevent prosecutors from discussing any of Clemons’ prior criminal history or the notice of claim she filed with the city of Saraland — typically the first step of filing a lawsuit against a municipality. As mentioned above, Clemons has already retained a civil attorney.
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