In this episode we will look at a federal lawsuit accusing police of violating the civil rights of a then-pregnant woman that has cleared a major hurdle. Court filings reveal the harrowing experience for a woman who went into labor shortly after she was put in handcuffs and jailed.
TAYA GRAHAM: Hello. My name is Taya Graham and welcome to the Police Accountability Report.
As we’ve said before, the show has a single purpose: to hold one of the most powerful institutions in this country accountable, policing. To do so, we go beyond the daily headlines and go in depth to explore both the questionable behavior of police and the system that bolsters it. As always, we ask if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us. You can reach out either via the comments or message us at Police Accountability Report on Facebook or Twitter, or you can message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Twitter or Facebook.
Now today, we’re going to examine footage of a controversial arrest and delve into why it happened and the implications for the person who was arrested. It’s an arrest that happened from 2013, but we’re talking about it now because of a federal lawsuit filed against the officers involved. It’s moving forward and may go to trial soon. And that lawsuit has revealed details about the arrest that raise serious questions about police tactics, which is of course the purpose of this show.
So the story starts with a typical American ritual, a day of fun at the beach. In this case, Ocean City, Maryland. But soon, as you can see in this video, a leisurely day at the shore suddenly turned chaotic and led to this, the aggressive take down of a pregnant woman. Now, Stephen, as we watch this video, can you talk a little bit about what started this ordeal?
STEPHEN JANIS: All right. Well, what happened first was that a lifeguard who was working at that time, became concerned about a group of soccer players or people playing soccer on the beach, and allegedly told the soccer players not to play soccer on the beach. For what reason? It’s really not clear, and that lifeguard called police on these men playing soccer, and so the police showed up to question them. Three police officers show up at first, and they run the men’s records or whatever and questioned the men. But it seems like at that point, at least initially in the video, things were pretty calm.
TAYA GRAHAM: Right. All the men are seated except for one who’s talking to the police. I believe that they were running his information. He gave his name, they ran a check on him to make sure there weren’t any warrants, but everyone else was sitting quietly on the ground. You couldn’t hear any cursing. There was no harsh words directed at the police. So what caused this to escalate?
STEPHEN JANIS: Well, what happened was that one of the men was like, look, I’ve been here long enough. And of course, the Constitution allows a person to walk away, unless they are detained for some investigatory purposes or because they’ve committed a crime, some probable cause. And he’s like, I’m leaving. And that’s the moment where you’ll see on the video now. We’re showing you that the officer decides to corral him and bring him down. And that’s when just all hell breaks loose. And that’s when the problem begins.
TAYA GRAHAM: Exactly. So after the officer arrests one of the men, the main plaintiff in the lawsuit, Dalima Palmer tries to intervene and this is where she ends up being taken to the ground.
EYEWITNESS 1: [crosstalk] Oh, shit she’s pregnant! She’s pregnant! She’s pregnant! She’s pregnant! She’s pregnant! She’s fucking pregnant! She’s pregnant! She’s pregnant! What the fuck? [crosstalk].
POLICE OFFICER(S): [crosstalk]
EYEWITNESS 2: Oh my god!
EYEWITNESS 1: She’s pregnant. They know that.
BYSTANDER: I don’t care. My kids are here. Move! [crosstalk] My kids are here. [crosstalk]
TAYA GRAHAM: The arrest has consequences for Palmer. At the time, she was eight months pregnant and she claims in her lawsuit, the encounter put her into labor prematurely, and caused medical complications for her child. Court documents allege the officer was told she was pregnant, yet she was still forced to the ground. He put his knee in her back, which caused her sharp stomach pains. After she was taken into custody and jailed, she continued to feel sharp pains in the stomach. She asked for medical assistance, but was denied. The lawsuit states, she soon lost consciousness and then went into labor. And only then was she taken for medical assistance. But there was another disturbing detail in the lawsuit that speaks to the absolute authority of police. And it’s a controversial practice in this country with regards to women who give birth in custody. So Stephen, can you talk a little bit about this practice that affects pregnant women going into labor?
STEPHEN JANIS: Well, in many cases, women are shackled when they’re giving birth. If women are in prison, they’re shackled. It’s been very controversial in Maryland. They’ve tried to overturn it. I think they finally did. But what happened was, she was accompanied by two male officers who were observing her giving birth and she felt uncomfortable. She said, “I would really prefer a female officer,” and she was denied that. So she had to give birth in front of two men she didn’t know, two cops as if something—I mean, it’s such a minor thing. And she has to sit there, give birth to her child with two cops she doesn’t know standing over her, watching her.
TAYA GRAHAM: Which of course added to her stress.
STEPHEN JANIS: Absolutely.
TAYA GRAHAM: And to her discomfort.
STEPHEN JANIS: Right.
TAYA GRAHAM: And let’s talk a little bit about why she was actually put in jail. We can take a look at the video, but she was actually accused of assault against the police officer?
STEPHEN JANIS: Right. She was accused of secondary assault because she’s supposedly slapped the hands of the officer who tried to corral her, or whatever you want to say, or take her to the ground.
TAYA GRAHAM: Right.
STEPHEN JANIS: And so that warranted in Worcester County Court, a second degree assault charge, supposedly 30 days jail time and a year’s probation. So yes, she was charged and tried for that crime, which seems to me at that point, it would be something where you say, “Well, she was pregnant. I mean, let’s just let bygones be bygones,” but not with American law enforcement. It was like, for some reason they had to prove a point. I don’t really know what their motivation was, but in the lawsuit they say they were completely justified.
TAYA GRAHAM: So I think it’s important to be noted that the arrest of the pregnant woman who went into labor was actually prosecuted. That’s right. The state found it worthwhile to try and convict Palmer. She was sentenced to a year probation in order to spend 30 days in jail. So Stephen, where is the civil case now, now that the criminal case has been settled?
STEPHEN JANIS: Well, the civil case has gone through the permutations that a civil case goes through, where there’s an initial filing of motions to dismiss, and to block the plaintiff from going forward with the suit. But the suit has been scheduled for a conference of discovery, and then soon it could go to trial. I mean, it’s past basically the initial legal hurdles that any civil lawsuit has to say that it’s stated a claim and that the claim is worth hearing. So the federal judge has allowed it to proceed. I did notice in the court history filings that there is a settlement conference, so it could be on the verge of settling. Right now, the plaintiffs are asking for a million dollars damages, so we’ll see what happens. It’s a federal lawsuit. Obviously, the plaintiff felt she couldn’t file the lawsuit in Worcester County where this occurred. So a lot of these cases, and we’ve covered this, are going to federal court saying “violation of civil rights,” which I think is a strategy to deploy because the local courts aren’t going to give them a fair hearing.
TAYA GRAHAM: Also, we want to update you on a case we broke exclusively on the Police Accountability Report last week. Baltimore police officer Michael Gentil was convicted of first degree assault for pointing a gun at a man who he almost hit with his car. Stephen was able to obtain new court documents that reveal a few new details. Stephen, can you tell us what those documents said?
STEPHEN JANIS: Yeah. We finally got a hold of, actually, the documents the prosecutors filed to prosecute the case. When we initially broke the story, we just really had sources, and we didn’t really have the actual documents. But the documents were very revealing because what we initially reported was that an officer was driving to work, he nearly hits a pedestrian—
TAYA GRAHAM: Yes.
STEPHEN JANIS: He is angered by that, gets out and points his gun at the pedestrian, and orders him to the ground. But now what we see in these documents, which is extremely interesting, is that he not only ordered him to the ground, then began spewing racial slurs—
TAYA GRAHAM: Yes.
STEPHEN JANIS: And then also, kicked him in the head and split his chin open.
TAYA GRAHAM: Right.
STEPHEN JANIS: So caused bodily harm.
TAYA GRAHAM: Absolutely terrible.
STEPHEN JANIS: And also, what the documents show is that this actually went to trial, or actually was prosecuted because of a neutral third-party witness, who witnessed the whole thing and reported it. Because usually, police usually don’t get prosecuted for these kinds of things. Pointing a gun at someone is pretty common in Baltimore. And the officer filed a statement with the court that we actually read, and said that he thought that someone had thrown something at his car.
TAYA GRAHAM: Right.
STEPHEN JANIS: He confronted the victim, and the victim said, “Oh yeah, I threw a juice box because you almost hit me.” And doesn’t mention the fact that he had kicked him in the head. He said he feared for his safety—
TAYA GRAHAM: Exactly.
STEPHEN JANIS: And that’s why he pulled the gun. And then, when the suspect or the person that he was attacking got up and walked away, he said, “Oh, he was getting another gun,” or something, “so I left the scene.”
TAYA GRAHAM: Right. That he was worried that the pedestrian who he almost hit with his car, actually was going somewhere to get a gun? I mean, that seems very odd.
STEPHEN JANIS: The thing is, and this very important, is that any police officer who uses force in that capacity must call it in. You can’t just pull your gun and walk away. We’ve seen this in another case we covered— I’m not going to go into the details— but it’s something that’s absolutely required. If you’re on the scene, and you use force, and you pull your gun on somebody, you got to call it.
TAYA GRAHAM: You’ve got to call it in. You’ve got to let the other police know.
STEPHEN JANIS: Call it in, arrest him, whatever— and he just drove off, so the documents are very revealing. There is a serious problem in the Baltimore City Police Department. And I can understand why he was convicted because the evidence – because they had a third-party witness who saw him. And they have pictures, which we’ve not been able to obtain, of the victim.
TAYA GRAHAM: But we’re working on getting those pictures.
STEPHEN JANIS: We are working on those pictures. I mean, it really sounds like it was a serious injury— slamming his head into either the sidewalk or the curb, which caused his chin to split open. So we will keep following this story.
TAYA GRAHAM: Absolutely. This is the end of another Police Accountability Report. I want to thank my reporting partner, Stephen Janis. And as always, we ask that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us. You can reach out either via the comments or message us at the Police Accountability Report on Facebook or Twitter, or you can message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Twitter or Facebook.
My name is Taya Graham and I want to thank you for watching the Police Accountability Report.