A Black Georgia librarian filed a federal lawsuit last month after she said North Carolina law enforcement officers pulled her by her hair, tore her rotator cuff, and unlawfully searched her purse and vehicle for going 10 miles over the speed limit. Stephanie Bottom, a librarian driving in Rowan County for her aunt’s funeral, attracted the attention of two different law enforcement agencies when she didn’t notice that a deputy trailing her had activated his blue lights, Bottom’s attorneys alleged in the lawsuit.
When she did, she looked for a safe place to pull over because she was so afraid of police that she didn’t want to stop on the side of the interstate, according to the suit initially discovered by The Charlotte Observer. Recently-released body camera footage shows how officers responded when they got Bottom to stop.
Both the Rowan County Sheriff's Office and the Salisbury Police Department are named in the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Salisbury police officers Devin Barkalow and Adam Bouk, Rowan County deputy Mark Benfield, and Sheriff Kevin Auten are also named in the suit. “Defendants were deliberately indifferent to the fact that their use of force was unreasonable, excessive, and without lawful justification or excuse, and thus a violation of both statutory and constitutional law,” attorneys stated in the suit.
Bottom was in her 60s when deputies attempted to stop her on May 30, 2019 for going 80 miles per hour in a 70-mile-per-hour zone. Body camera footage cited in the lawsuit showed Barkalow calling the woman a "f--king retard" and a "douche bag" when she didn’t immediately stop. He also said this was an "exciting chase and he was "at the edge" of his seat, according to the suit.
As Bottom tried to pull over, Smith pulled ahead of her and used spike strips to immobilize her vehicle, Bottom's legal team said. "Defendants Benfield and Barkalow approached Plaintiff’s vehicle with guns drawn and pointed at Plaintiff," Bottom's attorneys said in the suit. The body camera footage shows the men approaching Bottom. “Within five seconds of arriving at her drivers’ side door with guns drawn, Defendants Benfield and Barkalow grabbed Plaintiff by her arm and hair and threw her from her Toyota Sequoia to the ground,” attorneys said in the lawsuit. “(...) Once on the ground, Defendants Benfield, Barkalow, and Bouk placed their arms and knees on her back. Plaintiff was lying face down on the ground. Defendants Benfield, Barkalow and Bouk pulled on her arms twisting them behind her back.”
Attorneys also stated that during the encounter law enforcement officers started searching Bottom’s SUV and purse without her consent. “They searched her car and purse without a warrant or probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” attorneys said in the suit.
Warning: This video shows officers dragging Bottom and may be triggering for some viewers.
Bottom could be heard in the body camera footage asking officers: “Why are you doing this to me?” One of the men yelled that they had been following her for about 10 miles. “I was just driving,” Bottom said. Handcuffed on the ground, she was told she was going to jail now. “Why? What have I done wrong,” she asked. “What have I done wrong? I’m 68-years-old.”
Bottom screamed in pain when the deputy tried to stand her up. “It hurts,” she said. Officers eventually were able to help her up by removing one handcuff. Bottom pleaded guilty to failure to heed to blue lights, but speeding and resisting charges against her were dismissed, CBS reported.
Bottom said in an interview with the broadcasting system that she wants to tell officers: “You hurt me. You can’t hurt vulnerable people. You can’t force and brutalize innocent people.”