By David Buckley
NEEDLES—Pedestrian arrests of dark skinned citizens became a major national issue this week when on August 10, 2016 the United States Department of Justice made public a report on an ongoing investigation into civil rights violations by the Baltimore City Police Department.
The United States Department of Justice’s investigation gives graphic indication of a pattern or practice of conduct that violates civil rights by police making unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests, using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of searches and arrests of African Americans. Using excessive force and retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally-protected expression was reported, as was excessive use of force against juveniles and people with mental health disabilities.
The Department of Justice monitored the department’s policing methods for more than a year at the request of the Baltimore Police Department.
The stops, searches and arrests made by the Baltimore City Police Department were said to be concentrated in a small area of Baltimore and targeted dark skinned people who were on foot rather than traveling in vehicles.
Meanwhile, on August 9, 2016, the evening before the news in Baltimore broke on national television newscasts, a report of the same type of systemic behavior by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department was mentioned during public comments at the Needles City Council meeting to address an agenda item that concerned the sheriff’s department’s request for an increase of 7 percent in the local police services contract. The increase was sought to cover salary raises.
After two of the council members, Louise Evans and Shawn Gudmundsen, pushed back on the increase in the contract, Ruth Musser-Lopez, who pulled papers for Needles City Council this week in the midst of circulating four voter initiative petitions she authored, in public comments requested that the council think seriously about the skyrocketing cost of law enforcement services since the sheriff’s department replaced the once-independent Needles Police Department. She also suggested that the council seek an investigation of the reports that she had learned of while seeking signatures in the “village” section of the city’s territory, the area of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe’s reservation administrative headquarters. She told the council it would prove an embarrassment to the city if the reports are true that sheriff’s deputies are targeting Native Americans for arrest as they walk off the reservation to go to the nearby Circle K in a town that currently has no market other than mini-marts and dollar stores along with four medical marijuana retail outlets.
Incidental to this disclosure, the Sentinel has learned, is the travail of a Navajo woman living on the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation in Needles, Kristen Raquel Arthur. Kristen Arthur, her mother said, had no prior arrests, but while walking from Circle K to her home nearby on the reservation was stopped, falsely accused of burglary by San Bernardino County deputies, arrested and then booked for resisting arrest on May 11, 2016. Though the original charge of having “ransacked a house on K Street” was dropped, Arthur continues to be incarcerated at West Valley Detention Center awaiting psychological evaluation required of her due to the fact that she allegedly bit and scratched one of the arresting officers while resisting arrest.
Kristen Arthur, 24, is the sister of Trevor Arthur, a Navajo “long distance” runner for the Fort Mojave Tribe of Native Americans also known as “Spirit Runners” who on February 24, 2014, was subject of a similar stop and arrest. In Arthur vs. McMahon et. al., it is alleged the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department allegedly stopped Trevor while he was running in his jogging clothes with his headphones in his ears. In effectuating his arrest, the suit states Trevor Arthur was stopped by the arresting officer who used the left side of the squad car bumper, “swiping” into him. Jumping out of the car while Trevor was still confused from the blow, the lawsuit maintains, deputies in concert then tackled him, hit him and put Arthur in a chokehold and legholds with a deputy’s knee pressed against his neck. According to the lawsuit, Arthur “pled with the deputies to free his leg because it was in great pain from the impact. The deputies, however, continued hitting and pressing on plaintiff even though plaintiff obeyed all of their orders. One of the officers told plaintiff, ‘You should have stopped running.’ During the arrest, defendant deputies made racial insults towards Trevor including, ‘Are you one of those stupid degenerate natives? Or are you one of those Mexicans here in the valley?’”
According to the complaint there were people watching and recording the incident, while Trevor cried out, “Help! Somebody Please! The f—ing Nazis are hurting me!” Upon arrival at the station, the complaint states, Trevor was submitted to further racial insults and slammed to the floor and choked while he was in handcuffs outside of Needles Colorado River Station. A deputy McMullen continued to make racial comments and joke about Arthur but because the entire left side of Trevor’s head was still bleeding and his torso ached and throbbed from the injuries, he was released and his mother took him to the hospital for treatment. Deputies in Needles continue to “harass, stare and follow plaintiff when he is on foot running through the streets to the high school football field for his run” according to the complaint.
Similar to the circumstances that led to the United States Department of Justice’s findings with regard to the Baltimore police, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is said to have a code of silence such that deputies ratify the unconstitutional treatment of suspects. The department also fails to adequately supervise and train its police officers with regard to protecting the civil rights of those they arrest.
Coincidentally, in Chemehuevi et. al. v. McMahon, the county sheriff’s department and its deputies have been sued by the tribe for allegedly targeting and stopping vehicles with brown skinned people, Native Americans in and around the Chemehuevi Indian reservation located at Havasu Lake in the community south of Needles.
Kristen’s mother, Delrae Yazzie Arthur, told the Sentinel that Kristen had just given birth to her first child and was suffering post-partum depression. She said Kristen woke her up at 1:45 a.m. and told her that she was going to the Circle K to get a soda. Yazzie reported that Kristen had been breast-feeding her 9-month-old baby girl, her first child, and that the thrust of the blow from the deputy smashed her left breast when she was flung to the ground during the arrest and she now suffers from serious breast pain while incarcerated. Also the baby suffers from deprivation of her mother and is suffering from abandonment issues, Delrae Arthur said.
“There is a witness at the Circle K who can attest that an officer was in the store at the same time as Kristen was there and there was no attempt to question or arrest Kristen then. They claim she was at 1900 Broadway which would put her at the ’66 Bar,’ but a store clerk witness saw her at the Circle K.” Yazzie-Arthur said. Yazzie-Arthur asserts that after Kristen crossed the street from the mini-mart, a female officer, deputy April Jennings, was brutal to her, grabbed onto her long black hair and put her in a choke hold to detain her. “One side of Kristin’s head is thin and bald where Kristin’s hair was pulled” she said. Yazzie-Arthur said Kristen was put in a chokehold and then forced to the ground where the officer kneeled on her neck, pinning her down. “That cut off Kristen’s air supply and Kristen said that is the reason she bit the officer because she was trying to breath. She was tazed twice after the hand cuffs were put on her. She was never read her Miranda rights.”
Yazzie-Arthur continued, “All the officers suffered was a bite mark and a scratch, but Kristen had bruised eyes. She had bruises in two spots on her back where she was tazed. She also showed me bruises on her ribs but that may have been from when she was jumped inside the jail. Kristen did not receive any medical attention for 95 days while she was in detention. She has not received our traditional Navajo medicine; she has not been smudged with either cedar or sage. I am only allowed to see her for 15 minutes at a time and I must drive all the way across the Mojave Desert to see her. When I saw her, the wounds she had were all defense wounds. She didn’t fight them. She is strong and 5’11”— if she wanted to fight she could have. Her face was beat and no booking photos were taken. One of her breasts was smashed. I am unable to minister to her because they will not even tell me where she is at this point and they will not allow me to visit her. I cry for her every day.”
Kristen’s grandmother, Christine Sanders Armstrong, told the Sentinel that the deputy public defender, Eric McBurney, who had been assigned to her granddaughter, embarrassed and humiliated Kristen in front of the district attorney and the entire audience in the courtroom before the judge entered. “The public defender assigned to my granddaughter, mocked her loudly calling her ‘Jaws’ so that everyone in the room could hear him. He said that he was at the court because Kristen had bit a police officer and now he had the job of defending ‘the Shark.’ This is so twisted and wrong. Now they are alleging Kristen is incompetent and will not honor her request for a new public defender,” Armstrong said. As they were speaking with the Sentinel, Yazzie-Arthur and Armstrong reported that “A county sheriff’s patrol car just pulled up outside of our house as we speak and is just sitting there. We feel so oppressed and intimidated.”
Kristen Raquel Arthur is currently said to be in the “ZZZ Ward” of the West Valley detention center. West Valley and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in charge of it are currently the focus of an ongoing investigation by the FBI for civil rights violations arising from the abuse of inmates. There were allegations in the social media of hazing rituals where new deputies were encouraged to taze prisoners’ testicles. More than two years ago, four West Valley detention center employees were “walked off” the property by federal agents.
The sheriff’s department had no comment on the treatment of individuals in the Needles area by department members.
David Buckley reported this story from Needles.
By David Buckley