Arrest of black woman by white officers in Waffle House echoes Starbucks incident

'You're not going to grab on me like that, no'

Alex Horton
Tuesday 24 April 2018 15:47 BST
Police officers brawl with black woman at Waffle House after she asked for plastic cutlery

White police officers in Alabama wrestled a black woman to the ground in a Waffle House early Sunday morning, exposing her breasts during the struggle and prompting comparisons to two black men arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks earlier this month.

Yet local police maintain that the three officers involved followed protocol and said the department is "not choosing to take any action at this time." At a news conference Monday afternoon, officials said the woman and her friend were acting belligerently inside the Waffle House, drunkenly yelling profanity at the restaurant's employees and threatening to return with a gun and "shoot this place up."

The incident sparked a sit-in protest at the store Sunday afternoon and led to responses from the NAACP and celebrities, even as Waffle House officials contested the details of the family's story.

A video that has gone viral shows Chikesia Clemons, 25, sitting on a chair at the diner in Saraland, north of Mobile, as one of the officers grabs her neck and right wrist in an attempt to subdue her. Clemons describes a disagreement with a store employee that triggered the police response. She soon appears conscious of her tube top and raises her arms to cover her bust line.

"You're not going to grab on me like that, no," Clemons tells the officer, who appears to speak to another officer off-camera in the video filmed by Clemons' friend, Canita Adams.

What happens next is unclear. The widely circulated Adams video of the incident suddenly jumps to the moment Clemons and the two officers go to the ground in a violent tumble. It is unclear from the video who initiated the struggle that forced Clemons and the officers to the floor.

"What are you doing?" Clemons asks as the struggle continues on the tile floor.

"I'll break your arm, that's what I'm about to do," an officer says.

The struggle continues, with officers demanding Clemons to stop "resisting" as her breast is exposed.

At one point, an officer places his hand around her neck.

"You're choking me!" Clemons cries out.

The officer releases his grip when a third officer nearby gestures with his hand. Clemons was arrested at about 2:45 a.m. and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, officials confirmed at the news conference.

Officials from the Saraland Police Department said an investigation into Clemons' arrest and the officers' conduct began early Sunday morning. At the news conference, Detective Collette Little played the 911 call made by a Waffle House employee at around 2:30 a.m., as well as surveillance footage from inside the restaurant.

According to the 911 call, the employee said she had been told by one of her managers to call the police because of customers - two black females and one black male - who entered the restaurant with alcohol. The customers were told they were not allowed to drink the alcohol inside, the employee told the dispatcher.

Several surveillance clips from different angles showed two women, identified as Clemons and Adams, sitting down at a table. An unidentified male had previously entered the Waffle House and went to the restroom, before joining the women at their table.

Little said that after a few minutes, "the situation escalates between the patrons at that table and the employees." The Waffle House employees ask Clemons, Adams and their male friend to leave the restaurant. Adams and the male friend can be seen briefly exiting the Waffle House. Clemons briefly reaches the door, then walks back over to her booth to re-engage with the employees. Adams soon returns.

Soon, the three officers arrive one by one. In one of the frames, Clemons is seen being taken to the floor. Little said that during the arrest, the officers were attempting to handcuff Clemons "behind her back, which again is standard procedure."

Little said that one of the officers asked Adams "if she will assist in pulling Ms. Clemons's shirt back up. And Ms. Adams refuses." The male friend then "asks permission to pull her dress up, and the female gives him permission."

At that point, Clemons, Adams, the male friend and the three officers leave the Waffle House.

Little said that when the police arrived, Clemons "appeared to be intoxicated." Little said that Clemons "got sick" after being booked. An image showed Clemons at the police station holding a trash can up to her face.

Detective Brian Mims said that in conducting the police investigation, he reached out to Clemons and Adams to interview them. Clemons did not appear for a scheduled interview. Attempts to reach Adams were unsuccessful.

Mims interviewed the three officers as well as witnesses from inside the Waffle House, including six employees and one customer. Of those witnesses, two were African American and four were female, he said. All witnesses confirmed that Clemons and her friends smelled of alcohol and appeared drunk. One person brought a drink believed to be alcoholic into the restaurant.

The witnesses said Clemons and Adams loudly shouted profanity at the Waffle House employees. One of them shouted "I'll come over this counter" and threatened to beat the employee, saying "B--, I'm gonna have your job, you ain't gonna be here tomorrow."

One of the witnesses, according to Mims, reported hearing "I may have a gun, I may have anything. I can come back here and shoot this place up if I need to."

Witnesses said Clemons refused to comply with the officers on multiple occasions.

Mims said that from the investigation, race was not a factor in Clemons' arrest or in her conversations with the Waffle House employees.

"It was based solely on the fact that they were asked to take their beverages out and not consume them on the premises based on Waffle House's policy," Mims said. "They did not feel it was related to any other circumstance."

Little acknowledged that one of the officers told Clemons that he could break her arm during the arrest if she did not cooperate. Little said it was "a cause-and-effect statement, rather than a threat."

"It's common when an officer is using a technique to take a subject into custody that the force used could possibly create an injury," Little said.

The arrest at the Waffle House comes as companies face questions about racial profiling and how law enforcement responds. Less than two weeks ago, a white Starbucks manager called the police with a loitering complaint on two African American men who had been sitting in the store for two minutes. The men were arrested, and in the following days, both the CEO of Starbucks and Philadelphia's police commissioner apologized. The company's chairman said the manager likely acted on her own "unconscious bias" when she called 911.

Clemons' mother Chiquitta Clemons-Howard told the Waffle House dispute arose after her daughter refused to pay an extra 50 cents for plastic utensils. Mims said that issue did come up in the confrontation.

"The employee conveyed the message that, 'I don't know how old the policy is, but it is now customary that if you ask for plastic utensils to dine in only, that there is a 50 cents charge,' " Mims said. "When they had a discussion about it between the patrons and the staff, they did provide the utensils before they took their order and they were not going to be charged for it."

"They didn't even ask her to leave, she was waiting for them to give her the district manager's card so she could file a complaint on one of the waitresses," Clemons-Howard told the outlet. "When they went to go get the card, that's when the police showed up. The officer should've come in and said 'we need you to leave.' "

Clemons, Clemons-Howard and Adams could not be reached for comment.

Waffle House said in statement that police intervention was appropriate.

"[T]he information we have received at this point differs significantly from what has reportedly been attributed to Ms. Clemons," the company said.

Waffle House officials, speaking anonymously to offer a candid assessment of the incident, said key details were left out of statements by Clemons and Clemons-Howard to the media, including what happened before police arrived.

The Mobile chapter of the NAACP told it was also gathering information about the incident.

"In light of the current situation in our country - such as the arrest of two young black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks coffee shop - we felt it was important for our members to get a firsthand account of the incident, which has now gone viral on social media locally and across the country," chapter president David Smith said.

Chance the Rapper also weighed in on Monday.

"Protect our women. This is wrong, this is unjust and this happens to alot of women when there are NO cameras around. Stand with our women. Defend their voice, and their right to ask why they're being handled, being removed, being CHOKED. Be infuriated. Be willing to fight," he wrote on Twitter. He included a link to the video and emoji of a middle finger and a pig snout in an apparent insult to police.

The Alabama incident came the same day a gunman killed four people with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle at a Waffle House outside Nashville and fled the scene. The suspect has been taken into custody.

The shooting and arrest at the two Waffle Houses culminated in a blistering few hours for the iconic Southern breakfast chain. According to its website, Waffle House has been in operation since 1955. Its more than 1,500 restaurants are open 24 hours per day each day of the year.

(C) Washington Post

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