White police officers violently arrested a black woman in a Waffle House in suburban Mobile, Alabama, early Sunday morning in an incident sparked by some combination of plastic forks and the word “fuck.”
“I heard the f-bomb,” the officer who initially laid hands on the woman and later threw her to the floor says in one of the roughly 15 short video clips the woman’s friend was able to capture of the incident. The videos were removed from the friend’s public Facebook page late Monday morning, though a censored version of the clips remains on YouTube.
The woman’s top slips down during the tackle, leaving her breasts exposed for minutes as a trio of officers cuff her. Responding to the woman’s distressed questions about why she’s being treated this way, the officer shouts back “I’ll break your arm, that’s what I’m about to do.”
Both women react with alarm at the threat as the officers insist that the passive, horizontal woman is resisting arrest. “Alright now you’re being belligerent,” one officer responds.
A moment later, the third officer on hand appears to brandish his taser at Clemons’s head as the officer who threatened to break her arm keeps her pinned. At another, an officer retrieves a square object that had fallen off the front of his uniform that appears to be the shape and size of a body-worn recording device. A spokeswoman for the Saraland Police Department declined to say whether tasers and body-worn cameras are standard equipment in the city.
“I can say that what it looks like on the video is probably what it is,” she said, “but we will be giving out clearer information later this evening.”
The detective declined to comment on the reason for the arrest or any of what the video appears to show, saying the department will be releasing more information late on Monday. Local police and city officials are meeting with state government officials about the incident as well, she said, while declining to specify who would attend the meeting.
The woman’s family says the incident began over flatware. Store employees told her she’d be charged an extra 50 cents for plastic utensils, to which she said she’d never been charged for them before, prompting the Waffle House employee to cancel her order. The woman had just asked for a phone number for a district manager when police arrived, her family said.
The video gives little indication of why police were there. It does not capture the woman using vulgar language at any point, though it does show her appealing to another officer from her seat after the first cop puts hands on her.
The spokeswoman declined to say if the officers were simply on hand by coincidence or if they had been called to the store. She said a police report might eventually be released but that the city has no immediate plans to publish the document, which would likely clarify the precise official reason officers gave for using force to effect an arrest.
Cursing in public is technically a crime in many jurisdictions. SPD charged the woman with disorderly conduct, which Alabama law defines as “in a public place us[ing] abusive or obscene language” among other things.
She was also charged with resisting arrest, which policing analysts say is one of the most broadly misused categories of charge in all of law enforcement. Directing a curse word at a police officer, or lying still as officers yank unsuccessfully at a person’s arms, is often enough to trigger a charge for resisting even absent the more active type of noncompliance the term implies.
Supporters in the community rallied at the Waffle House location on Sunday. Speakers noted parallels to other ugly incidents where black people in chain restaurants have been subjected to heavy-handed police treatment with little clear justification, including a recent viral video from a Philadelphia Starbucks.
Waffle House’s corporate communications office jumped into things late Sunday, with a spokesman telling AL.com that “the information we have received at this point differs significantly from what has reportedly been attributed to Ms. Clemons and strongly supports the actions taken by the Saraland Police Department.”