Carmen Ponder, Miss Black Texas of 2016, alleges she was unlawfully arrested after an encounter with an off-duty police officer and Chief Kerry Crews, the Dallas Morning News reports.
While driving to a local Walmart in Commerce Texas, Ponder was cut off by a sporadic driver. "I thought it was a drunk driver so I [drove] around them," she said in a statement posted on Twitter. According to Ponder, after passing the vehicle, and pulling into the store’s parking lot, the car followed her. Upon exiting her vehicle, the 23-year-old Ponder was allegedly approached by the passenger. The man was apparently teaching his 14-year-old daughter how to drive and was incensed that Ponder would do such a thing.
“He continued yelling and cussing me out, and I finally turned around and said, 'It's illegal,' when he kept saying that it was a 14-year-old driving," she shared on Twitter. "That's when he screamed, 'Oh, whatever, you black bitch!'"
Ponder brushed the encounter off and headed inside Walmart to shop. According to a statement from Ponder’s attorney, Lee Merritt, that was posted on The Root, that’s when the encounter took a turn.
“A plain clothes unidentified officer wielding a badge informed her highness that the man she had pissed off was the chief of police and she had better apologize! She declined and continued graciously toward her vehicle,” Merritt explained.
“The cop grabbed her and shouted you’re not going anywhere, you’re being detained. Carmen complied and used her cell phone to call the police. When they arrived (of course) they spoke with the other officers and was told Carmen was evading arrest (no idea for what) and she was handcuffed and taken into custody. Miss Black Texas spent the night in jail. Her only crime ... the color of her skin.”
The encounter caused some confusion. Ponder initially identified the man in the vehicle who confronted her was Crews, but that is in dispute. The City of Commerce issued a statement that the passenger in the car was not Crews, but that he became involved in the incident after being approached by a customer. Crews was not on duty at the time, according to the statement.
"Since the incident there have been a number of statements made about the details of the incident, and many of these details do not align with the statements provided by Chief Crews and the responding officer. As such, the City is engaging an outside entity to conduct an investigation into the incident to objectively review and determine the facts," the City of Commerce statement reads.
Crews has been placed on administrative leave, pending the results of the investigation. The city calls this action "in keeping with common practice." They also note it's not an admission of wrongdoing on Crews' part, nor a disciplinary action.
Ponder has set up a crowdfunding page to assist with legal costs. "I will be using these funds for help with attorney's fees and city charges. I am not being charged for Civil Rights representation, but the city is pursuing criminal charges which will require a separate fee," she said in a statement on the page. "The money will be used to fight my unlawful charge of Evading Arrest/Detention. I refuse to take a plea deal and more than willing to go to trial, but that takes time and money."
Plea bargains often work against many black and brown defendants, according to a study cited on NPR.