A true account of police violence in Washington, D.C.
It was March 1, 2014. For Deena and Darius*, it was a regular Saturday in Washington, D.C. The couple spent most of the day watching classic comedies and being glowingly unproductive. Both in the spirit to keep the “party” going, they ventured to the nearby grocery store and purchased food worthy of a movie-marathon feast.
Shortly after dinnertime, Darius announced that he was heading upstairs for a nap. Deena opted out, and stayed downstairs. Thirty minutes later, Deena heard a piercing sound, and went upstairs to check on Darius, who was having an epileptic seizure. Deena followed the regular procedure. She turned Darius on his side, cleared away items on or near the bed that may cause harm, and she waited. As the first seizure came to pass, she ran down stairs to get her phone, only to hear the beginnings of another one. Deena did not feel comfortable simply waiting this one out, so she dialed 911.
Within twenty minutes, EMS arrived. To Deena’s surprise, they seemed rather calm- not in a professional way, but in a careless way. Based on Deena’s knowledge of seizures, she knew that Darius is often disoriented and not communicative, after or during an episode. Repeatedly, the female EMS leader said, “Sir do you want to go to the hospital, we don’t have all day.” Darius’s eyes just rolled back and closed. He was breathing heavily. The EMS practitioner said, “Are you sure he hasn’t been using?” Using what?
“Sir, if you don’t respond we can’t take you in.” Perhaps that was code for “if you don’t respond, we will call the cops,” because in an instant everything went awry.
When Darius staggered to the bathroom, simultaneously EMS summoned the Washington Metropolitan Police Department. The officers arrived like it was a drug raid and Deena and Darius were the kingpins. Three policeman stampeded up the stairs, ready to fight (seven more guarded the perimeter of the house). As Darius exited the bathroom, he was completely ambushed. They dragged him into the bedroom, and pinned him down like an rabid animal. Like Eric Garner, he was screaming “I can’t breathe!” Deena was completely frightened. She yelled “We called for help! Why are you doing this to us? What’s wrong with you?” She placed her hands on the back of a white cop who had his knees in Darius’s chest. The officer elbowed Deena in the chest and flipped her on to the bed, and threatened her with pepper spray. Deena smashed her face into the comforter for protection, since her hands were now cuffed. A younger looking officer looked on as she was pinned from behind by a man twice her size. Deena looked up at him and said, “you are going to hell for this.” The young officer slipped her cell phone into the pocket of her shirt. He must have known that his colleagues were out of line.
Escaping the threat of pepper spray, Deena was practically thrown down a flight of stairs, and rushed out the front door where she saw neighbors and kids filming the incident from across the street. She looked at her next door neighbor and said “I called 911, and these pigs showed up.” A black officer who seemed to have a speech impediment said, “G-g-get in the car you f-f-fucking bitch, you assaulted a police officer.” While her hands were cuffed, she maneuvered her phone from her pocket and dialed her parents, along with Darius’s mother. An officer took notice while she was on the phone with her mother, and grabbed the phone. Hey, at least she made the call… on her terms.
Over the next 40 minutes, the chaos ensued. Deena sat in the back of a cop car for what seemed like an eternity. Darius was still inside with the officers. The policeman who viciously pinned her down inside, came out, looking for Deena, but got distracted. What was he plannig to do? Finally, Deena saw a bloodied Darius, with his legs and arms cuffed, coming out of the house. The officers were still inside– looking, looting. Deena asked why Darius was cuffed, given his seizure, and one cop responded, “for the same thing you did- assaulting an officer.”
As the cop car pulled off, Deena began to hyperventilate, vomiting all over the vehicle. She is as headed to the hospital because two cops were instructed to transport her there. It was only to cover their tracks and treat wounds they inflicted. Darius was transported to the hospital in a separate ambulance. After being “treated,” Darius was taken down one hallway and Deena was led to a large police van.
When she got to the jail, Deena was asked to remove all her jewelry and accessories, even the elastic that was secured around her afro. Officers took her photo and logged her into the system. Then, she was escorted to a cell with a metal bed and a toilet bowl. She was menstruating, and candidly asked the guards for supplies. Deena’s request was never fulfilled, but another prisoner tossed her some toilet paper. Emotionally, physically, and mentally traumatized, she fell asleep.
Deena woke up on Sunday in the same cell with a metal bed and a toilet bowl. There was no way she or Darius would be released Sunday, because the city government is closed. Despite her best efforts to get information, no guard, no detective, no one would give her information about Darius’s status or whereabouts. After breakfast, bologna on white bread accompanied with HI-C (what a wholesome meal), she was transported to a different location. Being transported means, getting handcuffed, going out a dark back door, getting in the back of a van, then being unloaded, and shuffled inside another building. You don’t know the address, you don’t know the driver. Basically, you are not a person, you have no rights!
At the new location, she was separated from the others and taken to a small room for questioning. The officer greeted her with “You like to cause trouble.” To which Deena said, “Is this the job you wanted? Does it make you feel like a man?” Surprisingly, the cop gave a personal response, “I had two options, be a cop or be in the streets.” Deena replied, “That’s sad.”
Suddenly, Deena heard a familiar voice. It was Darius! He was in a room nearby. All this time, she thought they were so far away from one another. Deena began to scream: “Darius! Darius!!!!!!!” At first, there was no reply, but then she heard her nickname resound through the precinct walls, “DEE! I am going to the hospital.”
Deena was hopeful. Monday, was a business day. Their attorney would show up, and they could go home.
The only reason Deena knew it snowed was because an officer’s shoes were covered in slush. It was freezing that day. In the past two days, Deena had been with a cohort of sorts, five other women who always seemed to be grouped alongside her. They gave her a strange sense of familiarity, an awkward comfort. With nothing else to do, she used the time to find out what each of these women had done to land themselves in jail. Deena was appalled by the injustice and insensitivity that these women experienced at the hands of law enforcement.
- Woman 1- Her boyfriend sexually assaulted her and she threatened him with a knife in self-defense.
- Woman 2- Nonviolent petty theft. She was hoping to get out in time for her baby’s piano recital.
- Woman 3-(pregnant)- Boyfriend attacked her, she fought back.
- Woman 4- This girl could barely even speak because she was on PCP. Surely being locked in a cell didn’t help.
- Woman 5- Suspected drug use in the home…. Whatever that means.
- Woman 6 (Deena)- Her boyfriend had a seizure, she called 911.
Why do women get arrested if their man is beating them up? Why is a pregnant woman even here? What does it matter to cops what you do in your home? Since when does an emergency call turn into a police raid?
Deena and the other women were lined up and loaded into a police van. When they arrived at their destination, Deena was shocked. Unlike the dirty, cold cell she had been in, this facility was high tech, with automatic doors, and guards with HUGE firearms. Deena was at the courthouse gateway, in holding. With the same leggings and oversized denim shirt she’d had on since Saturday, she did everything she could to pull herself together. Finally, it was time. Deena was escorted through a door, which on one side had hundreds of men and women waiting to have their day in court, and on the other a courtroom filled with people who have no idea what’s beyond the wall. Both her parents and Darius’s parents were there, looking anxious, angry, and relieved all at once. Darius was there in a jumpsuit provided by the jail facility.
The fate of four days that felt like four lifetimes was decided in four minutes. “Deena, Darius, you are charged with assault on a police officer, charges can be altered pending a drug test, community service, and case management.”
There was no hashtag for Deena and Darius, no public outcry, no 60 Minutes appearances. Instead, it was the total opposite, the couple wrapped their experience up and put it in a lock box deep in the closet. It was a rather shameful moment for two law-abiding citizens. “Why us?” they thought. But the real question is “Why anyone?”
The entire situation from beginning to end was designed to break them. The accusatory entrance of police officers, separating the couple in the same facility, denying them medicine and feminine hygiene products, the admission to a fake crime. It was all a big game, and the police enjoyed it.
If you watch footage of Kalief Browder, following a three year stint on Rikers Island for allegedly stealing a backpack, he said “It wasn’t right, I didn’t want to say that I did something that I didn’t do.” In June 2015, Browder committed suicide by hanging himself. The same thing happened to Deena and Darius. Neither one of them assaulted anyone that night. However, why risk losing a trial? Clearly, the system doesn’t want them to win. The two even flirted with the idea of suing the city, but even their own attorney said their physical ailments didn’t look gruesome enough for that to work.
In the end, Deena completed thirty hours of community service and Darius’s charges were ultimately dropped because of the blatant idiocy of the arrest in the first place. But it could have been worse…
Imagine if Deena never made that call to her parents from the cop car. It could have been months before she spoke to anyone because she was denied her call at the jail.
Imagine if Darius died in police custody. Think about what Metro PD would have told the world. They would have everyone thinking that a black man on drugs attacked a cop.
On the flip side, imagine if Deena never called 911.
The story of Deena and Darius happens everyday. Sometimes the story ends like this. Be aware because it can happen to you.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of individuals involved.