When 28-year-old Earledreka White felt threatened by a Metro police officer in Houston, she dialed 911, requesting another unit come to the scene.
She was pulled over in March, as Officer Gentian Luca claimed, for crossing a solid white line on a 610 feeder road in southwest Houston. But within a few minutes, shortly after White began talking to the 911 operator, she ended up screaming for Luca to let her go as the officer pinned her against his patrol car and handcuffed her. Yeah, the 911 call was over at that point.
Her attorney, Zack Fertitta, thinks the entire incident, captured by nearby surveillance cameras, was avoidable and only the result of the officer's decision to escalate the situation, even though he was in no obvious danger. White, out on bond, is now fighting charges of resisting arrest.
"[Officer Luca's] training has to have been woefully inadequate," Fertitta said. "This is a traffic stop that escalated to arrest — for resisting arrest. There was no breach of the peace. She didn't attack him. There are excellent police officers out there who are complete professionals, but this guy is not one of them."
White, who is a social worker with a master's degree in psychology, was on her way home from work when she apparently changed lanes too soon and crossed that white line. According to Fertitta, it's only a legitimate traffic stop if the driver crosses the line "unsafely," which he maintains wasn't the case for White. In fact, in his downtown office, Fertitta showed the Houston Press a video he took of ten cars doing the same thing over the course of a single minute.
Once she was pulled over, White got out of the car, looking confused as she wondered why she'd been pulled over. Fertitta concedes that getting out of the car probably wasn't the best move, and often puts officers on edge. But he says it's obvious White was unarmed and wasn't dangerous. Still, the officer immediately took out his handcuffs, which Fertitta said made White feel terrified. "Once you approach someone with handcuffs, it changes the entire dynamic," Fertitta said.
White claims that the officer told her, "Get your ass back in the car," or else he would tase her. And that's when she calls 911. Everything's all fine and dandy — Luca watches somewhat awkwardly as White tells the operator she's afraid of Luca and would feel safer if another officer came — that is, until a few seconds after 911 transfers her to a Metro police dispatcher and White tells the operator she is being harassed. Without warning, Luca grabs White's wrist, the one she's using to hold the phone to her ear, and twists it in an attempt to cuff her.
"There was no danger to him — none," Fertitta said. "You have a questionable traffic offense to begin with. Then, we go from nonverbal — no instructions, communication, nothing — escalating to physically grabbing this lady during a traffic stop. Why?"
Here's why, according to Metro Police Chief Vera Bumpers: Bumpers said she believes Luca had the right to arrest White for failing to provide identification. Bumpers said that while White was on the phone with the 911 operator, Luca repeatedly asked for her license and registration, and White ignored him. Fertitta, meanwhile, says it's actually a misdemeanor offense to interrupt someone's 911 call, which he hopes the Harris County District Attorney's Office will realize in its review of the case. Bumpers would not comment on that allegation, but she did give her opinion of White's choice to call 911.
"There was no need to be on the phone with 911," Bumpers said. "911 is an emergency call. He was not threatening her. He was acting under the color of law as a police officer. To me, when your life is in danger, that is when we utilize 911, which is why the 911 operator transferred her to Metro."
Bumpers clarified that if citizens believe an officer is threatening them, they are always encouraged to ask the officer to contact his or her supervisor to send backup. But not call 911.
So apparently, White just did it wrong and could have avoided her own arrest and being charged with a criminal offense punishable with up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine by simply asking for backup in a different way.
Bumpers said this was a "lesson for citizens," but also one for officers. Although the Internal Affairs Division reviewed the incident after White's complaint and concluded he did nothing wrong, Bumpers said officers will still be reviewing the video for educational purposes.
Asked what Officer Luca could have done differently himself, Bumpers said, "We can always Monday morning quarterback and say 'what if' after a situation has occurred. In speaking with the officer, I believe he did everything reasonable at the time considering what was going on. He acted as reasonable as possible."
White's next court date is August 30. Too shaken up after the incident to even stay in Houston, she traveled to Baton Rouge to live with family in the meantime.
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