A woman who was eight months' pregnant when she was handcuffed and slammed to the ground has filed a lawsuit against the Barstow Police Department, alleging officers used excessive force when they arrested her for refusing to identify herself.
Charlena Cooks says she was wrongfully arrested, jailed for 10 to 12 hours and forced to go through bail expenses even though charges were ultimately dismissed, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court. She is seeking damages for emotional and mental distress.
“There is clearly so many lesser uses of forces to use before laying down your hands,” her attorney Caree Harper said.
Harper said two Barstow police officers pushed Cooks down to the ground face first, risking harm to her and her unborn child.
To this day, Cooks wonders if her daughter, who was born in March, suffered injuries directly related to the arrest, her attorney said. Cooks is also suing on behalf of her child.
Cooks' arrest — captured on an officer’s body camera — drew national attention after it raised questions about when police in California can ask for identification and when people can refuse to show it.
The ACLU of Southern California released the video on the heels of a $30,000 settlement in a separate case against the city of Barstow involving two brothers, Jesse and Robert Katz, who were arrested for resisting arrest after refusing to identify themselves.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld state laws that criminalize refusing to show identification to police. But California has no such law.
Harper said Barstow police have a history of using “stop-and-identify” tactics, and that Cooks is just one of many victims.
“This civil rights action is firmly in the public’s interest and the outcome will affect the citizens of Barstow as well as those who may visit that town,” the lawsuit states.
In Cooks’ case, the ACLU alleges race was also a factor in her arrest.
Barstow spokesman Anthony Riley has rejected the ACLU’s allegation that Cooks, who is black, was targeted because of her race.
He has defended the officers’ actions, saying that she “actively resisted arrest.”
But Harper said her client’s civil rights were violated.
“We can’t ignore the fact we are seeing people of color continuously killed … and beaten up,” she said.
Cooks did not know she was being filmed by an officer’s body camera when she was stopped Jan. 26 after dropping her daughter off at school.
A school employee called police after alleging that Cooks punched and threw an object at her car in the school parking lot. Cooks denied attacking the woman and said it was she who felt threatened.
The officer asked Cooks for her name, and she refused to give it. The lawsuit alleges police never identified the school employee.
Cooks then called her boyfriend to ask whether she had to identify herself. As she did, two officers approached her, wrestled her to the ground and handcuffed her.
“Why are you resisting?” one of the officers asked.
Cooks pleaded with the officers to release her because she was pregnant.
“Do not touch me,” she screamed in a video recording of the incident. “I am pregnant.”
ACLU of Southern California staff attorney Adrienna Wong said officers must have a reason to demand identification. She said officers in California should not use the obstruction law, Penal Code 148, to arrest someone for failing to provide an ID.
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