This Video Of Pregnant Charlena Cooks Being Wrestled To The Ground By Cops, Screaming, "Do Not Touch Me," Is Disturbing To Watch
Back in January, police body cameras captured the forceful arrest of a pregnant black woman in California for refusing to give a police officer her name after an argument with a white woman outside their children's school. The video shows police wrestling Charlena Michelle Cooks to the ground, face down, to handcuff her as she repeatedly says, "Do not touch me. I'm pregnant," and screams. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has stated the arrest was unjustified and was based on racial profiling, although the Barstow Police Department denies those claims, issuing a statement saying Cooks "actively resisted arrest" and the incident "was in no way racially motivated, as implied by the ACLU." The officers tried to arrest Cooks because she wouldn't give them her name, but here's the catch: you aren't required by law to identify yourself if you aren't suspected of a crime.
The details of the January arrest are just now surfacing; the ACLU put the full police video on YouTube May 28. It's unclear why the organization waited until now to do so. According to The Los Angeles Times, Cooks, 29, who was 8 months pregnant at the time of the arrest, has retained an attorney. The ACLU is advocating on her behalf, but not representing her. The dispute began when an employee at Cooks's daughter's elementary school claimed she was the victim of a road-rage incident with Cooks. According to The Los Angeles Times, the woman alleged that Cooks punched and threw something at her car in the school parking lot. Cooks says she was the one who felt threatened and denied attacking the other woman's car.
In the video, the police officer asks for her name and Cooks only says "Michelle," refusing to giver her full name. The officer says, "I actually do have the right to ask you for your name," but Cooks isn't convinced and says she is going to look it up on her cellphone. She calls someone and the officer begins reaching for her arms. You can hear Cooks repeatedly say, "Do not touch me. I'm pregnant. Do not touch me," but the officer forces her to the ground to handcuff her. Because she wouldn't identify herself, Cooks was arrested for obstruction of justice, but the charges were dropped.
Cooks was correct that she didn't have to give the police her name. The ACLU said in a statement:
Cooks should not have been arrested for failure to identify herself. A person who is not suspected of a crime has no obligation to identify herself. Even if an officer is conducting an investigation, in California (unlike some other states), he can't just require a person to provide ID for no reason. The officer can ask for ID, but the person can say no.
In California, as long as the request for ID is not reasonably related to the scope of the stop, you have the right to refuse to show your ID to law enforcement except in the following cases: If you're driving and pulled over, you need to show ID (and) if you have been arrested or booked, show your ID.
The Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant, applies to identification as well, but it's important to note that other laws on the issue differ from state to state. Under California law, Cooks did not have to give her full name or ID.
Thankfully her baby was not harmed in the forceful arrest, and she gave birth to a baby girl in March. Cooks told CNN the baby is healthy.
Images: ACLU of Southern California (1)