Bakersfield woman, mistaken for male suspect, files excessive force claim against police

A 19-year-old woman who was mistaken by police for a male suspect filed a claim Wednesday against the city of Bakersfield, alleging officers violated her civil rights and used excessive force when they arrested her.

Tatyana Hargrove was arrested on June 18 after Bakersfield police stopped her because she matched the description of a suspect who was armed with a machete and had visited a grocery store. During the stop, Hargrove claimed, she was beaten by officers and attacked by a police dog.

It wasn’t until she was placed in the back of a patrol cruiser and provided her name that officers realized she was a woman.

“What happened to me was vicious,” Hargrove said as tears streamed down her face at a news conference in Bakersfield. “It changed me very bad. My friends tell me I am different. I can’t talk about the story without crying. I hope and pray this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

The city has 45 days to respond to the claim before she can move forward with a lawsuit, said Hargrove’s attorney Neil Gehlawat. The force used on Hargrove, a Little Caesars pizza worker, was unreasonable and excessive, he said.

“We think that what happened to Tatyana is an injustice and it should have never happened,” Gehlawat said at a news conference.

Hargrove’s case drew attention and prompted an investigation only after she described her encounter with the Bakersfield police officers in a video widely circulated by the NAACP. The confrontation has also sparked a petition demanding that the officers be placed on leave and that charges be filed against them.

Hargrove, who was arrested on suspicion of resisting an officer and assault on a peace officer, was never charged with a crime.

The police encounter started after Hargrove, a Bakersfield resident, headed to the store to pick up a Father’s Day gift. The store was closed, so she turned around and headed home.

As Hargrove rode her bicycle in the blistering heat, she said, she stopped at an intersection to take a sip of water and noticed three patrol cruisers and an officer pointing a gun at her.

The officers had been looking for a man who had tried to stab a worker at the grocery store with a machete, according to a Bakersfield police report obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

The suspect was described as a 30-year-old black male who was 5 feet, 10 inches tall, weighed 160 pounds and had a shaved head and goatee, according to the police report. The man was carrying a pink duffel bag.

Hargrove is black, and stands 5 feet, 2 inches tall and weighs 120 pounds, according to the police report. She wore a red and black Spiderman backpack.

As police surrounded Hargrove, an officer asked her if she had stopped by the grocery store. Hargrove said she told them “No.” The officer then demanded she hand over her backpack, she said.

When Hargrove asked if he had a warrant, she said, he pointed toward a police dog, so she handed over her backpack.

According to the claim, the officer then grabbed her hands after she put them over her head. She was then propped up, punched and thrown to the ground.

The officer, the claim alleges, then put his knees on her back and head.

In the widely circulated NAACP video, Hargrove said, she told the officer “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” Then, she said, she screamed for help.

As she lay on the ground, she said, the police dog gnawed at her leg.

Officer Christopher Moore, who is named in the claim as well as another senior officer named G. Vazquez, described a different version of events in his police report.

Moore said he told Hargrove she was being detained because she matched the suspect’s description and warned her that if she didn’t follow his commands, he would release his dog on her.

He wrote that Hargrove spun into the officer, who then fell to the ground. She landed on top of the officer and mounted him, he said.

The officer then punched her once in the mouth and was able to push her off, according to the report. But, he said, Hargrove tried to get back onto the officer. At one point, he wrote, she grabbed the dog’s muzzle and sat up as he ordered her to stop resisting.

Hargrove was handcuffed, and her ankles were placed in police hobbles before she was carried into the back of the police cruiser.

According to the report, when Hargrove told officers her name is Tatyana, Moore said: “Don’t lie to me, that’s a girl’s name. What is your name?”

Hargrove responded, “I’m a girl, I just don’t dress like one.”

“This was when I first discovered she was a female,” Moore wrote in his report.

Hargrove was taken to a hospital, and later jailed. She suffered puncture wounds from the dog bite, and cuts to her face, and right knee and thigh.

“At no point was Hargrove armed and at no point did she pose any threat to the officers,” the claim contends.

Kern County Dist. Atty. Lisa Green later declined to file charges against her and dismissed the case. In a news conference on Aug. 2, Green said, she did not believe they “could convince 12 people in our community beyond a reasonable doubt” that Hargrove committed a crime.

Green, however, defended the officers’ actions, saying they had the right to detain Hargrove because the stop was made within seven minutes of the radio broadcast to police.

Gehlawat, Hargrove’s attorney, said the claim was his client’s only opportunity to hold the officers accountable.

“I think what’s troubling here is that there is this inclination to use force first,” he said. “If they would have just talked to her, they would have realized she was a female.”

Gehlawat said Bakersfield Police Chief Lyle Martin has since called Hargrove’s family to apologize.

The Bakersfield Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But police Sgt. Ryan Kroeker, a department spokesman, has previously said “there are two sides to every story.”

City Atty. Virginia Gennaro declined to comment on the claim, saying the “matter seems headed to litigation.”

In the end, Hargrove’s attorney is hoping the Police Department will initiate more accountability and better training for officers so they could avoid using force in certain situations.

As for Hargrove, she said, she has been in physical pain and emotional distress since her encounter with officers. She said she asks her parents to keep the doors locked and the windows closed.

“When you grow up and officers come to your school and tell you ‘You can count on us. You can count on us,’ then they turn around and they just violate you and your rights,” she said. “It’s just the worst thing ever.”

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

Twitter: VeronicaRochaLA

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