A 68-year-old Black librarian from Georgia has filed a civil rights lawsuit against police officers over a traffic stop gone awry.
Stephanie Bottom was admittedly going 10 miles over the speed limit on May 30, 2019 in North Carolina. Traveling north on I-85, she eventually “noticed the blue lights of a Sheriff Deputy’s vehicle” and “began looking for a safe area to pull over,” according to her lawsuit filed in federal court on Wednesday.
But she didn’t immediately comply, the lawsuit says, because she “feared the police and did not want to pull off on the side of the road along the interstate.”
The situation quickly spiraled downhill.
“Defendant officers became frustrated with Plaintiff when she did not pull over quickly enough,” the lawsuit alleges. “While following behind Plaintiff, Defendant [Devin] Barkalow made statements recorded by his body camera that Plaintiff was a ‘fucking retard’ and ‘douche bag.’ He exclaimed that this was an ‘exciting chase,’ and he was ‘at the edge of my seat.’”
Another officer sped ahead and “used spike strips to immobilize” Bottom’s vehicle, the lawsuit notes, causing her to finally stop on the interstate’s median. Officers Barkalow and Adam Bouk and Deputy Mark Benfield then quickly approached with their guns drawn.
Law enforcement’s handling of the situation was captured on body cameras, and images of their initial approach were included as exhibits in the lawsuit.
Some of those images can be seen immediately below:
Bottom alleges the group of officers arrested her “unreasonably” when they “grabbed [her] by her hair and threw her from her Toyota Sequoia to the ground.”
As a result, the librarian claims, she was seriously injured due to the “excessive force” of the arrest, which resulted in a “tear to her rotator cuff in her shoulder.” This injury, according to the lawsuit, “required surgery, permanently scarring and limiting the use of [Bottom’s] shoulder.”
And after that, she claims, it got even worse.
“Benfield, Barkalow, and Bouk placed [Bottom] in handcuffs and secured her at the front of her vehicle prior to commencing their search of [Bottom’s] vehicle and purse. At the time of the search, [Bottom] was at the front of her vehicle and unable to reach her vehicle or purse,” the lawsuit alleges. “At no time did [the officers] request, nor did [Bottom] give, consent to search the vehicle and purse.”
The lawsuit also notes that Bottom is “an elderly woman” and that all of the officers involved in the arrest “were aware” of her general age “based on their radio communications.”
“It is difficult for [Bottom] to exit her vehicle quickly due to her age and medical condition,” the lawsuit says. “[She] did not pose a threat to [the officers] or anyone else as she had her hands up as she attempted to exit the vehicle. [Law enforcement’s] decision ultimately to release her to medical care, instead of keeping her in police custody, demonstrates that he initial decision to take her into custody was unreasonable.”
Bottom sued on Wednesday alleging two separate violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, assault and battery, and a local statutory violation against Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten.
She is seeking punitive damages, compensatory damages, attorneys’ fees and other costs from the state defendants–as well as injunctive and declaratory relief that prohibits similar treatment against citizens in the future based on the idea that the officers’ actions were in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Docket action in the case was quick, however, and there may not be much of any precedent as a result of the lawsuit.
On the same day Bottom’s case was filed, it was automatically referred to mediation under local court rules due to the subject matter concerning an alleged Civil Rights violation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Read the full lawsuit below:
[Image via court documents]
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