White police officers in Alabama wrestled a black woman to the ground in a Waffle House early Sunday, exposing her breasts during the struggle and prompting comparisons to the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks earlier this month.
Yet local police maintain that the three officers involved followed protocol and said the department is “not choosing to take any action at this time.” At a news conference Monday afternoon, officials said the woman and her friend were acting belligerent inside the Waffle House in Saraland, north of Mobile, drunkenly yelling profanities at restaurant employees and threatening to return with a gun and “shoot this place up.”
The incident — which was caught on a video that went viral — sparked a sit-in at the store Sunday afternoon and led to responses from the NAACP and some celebrities, even as Waffle House officials contested the details of the family’s story.
The video shows Chikesia Clemons, 25, sitting on a chair at the diner as one of the officers grabs her neck and right wrist in an attempt to subdue her. Clemons describes a disagreement with a store employee that triggered the police response. She soon appears to realize that the tube top she is wearing is slipping, and she raises her arms to cover her bust line.
“You’re not going to grab on me like that, no,” Clemons tells the officer, who appears to speak to another officer off-camera.
What happens next is unclear. The widely circulated video of the incident filmed by Clemons’s friend Canita Adams suddenly jumps to the moment when Clemons and the two officers go to the ground in a violent tumble. It is not clear from the video who initiated the struggle that forced Clemons and the officers to the tile floor.
“What are you doing?” Clemons asks during the struggle.
“I’ll break your arm, that’s what I’m about to do,” an officer says.
The struggle continues, with officers demanding that Clemons stop “resisting” as her breast is exposed.
At one point, an officer places his hand around her neck. “You’re choking me!” Clemons cries out.
The officer releases his grip when a third officer nearby gestures with his hand. Clemons was arrested about 2:45 a.m. and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, officials confirmed at the Monday news conference.
Saraland police officials said an investigation into Clemons’s arrest and the officers’ conduct began early Sunday. At the news conference, Detective Collette Little played the 911 call made by a Waffle House employee, as well as surveillance footage from inside the restaurant.
According to the 911 call, which was placed at around 2:30 a.m. Sunday, the employee said she was told by one of her managers to call the police because two black females and one black male had entered the restaurant with alcohol. The customers were told that they were not allowed to drink the alcohol inside, the employee told the dispatcher.
Several surveillance clips from different angles showed two women, identified as Clemons and Adams, sitting down at a table. An unidentified male had previously entered the Waffle House and went to the restroom before joining the women at their table.
After a few minutes, Little said, “the situation escalates between the patrons at that table and the employees.” The Waffle House employees ask Clemons, Adams and their male companion to leave the restaurant. Adams and the man can be seen briefly leaving the Waffle House. Clemons reaches the door, then walks back to her booth to reengage with the employees. Adams soon returns, the clips show.
Soon, the three officers arrive one by one. In one of the frames, Clemons is seen being taken to the floor. Little said that during the arrest, the officers were trying to handcuff Clemons “behind her back, which again is standard procedure.”
Little said that one of the officers asked Adams “if she will assist in pulling Ms. Clemons’s shirt back up. And Ms. Adams refuses.” The male companion then “asks permission to pull her dress up, and the female gives him permission.”
At that point, Clemons, Adams, the male friend and the three officers leave the Waffle House.
Little said that when the police arrived, Clemons “appeared to be intoxicated.” Little said that Clemons “got sick” after being booked. An image showed Clemons at the police station holding a trash can up to her face.
Detective Brian Mims said as part of the police investigation, he reached out to Clemons and Adams to interview them. Clemons did not appear for a scheduled interview. Attempts to reach Adams were unsuccessful.
Mims said he interviewed the three officers as well as witnesses from inside the Waffle House, including six employees and one customer. Of those witnesses, two were African American and four were female, he said. All witnesses confirmed that Clemons and her friends smelled of alcohol and appeared drunk. One person brought a drink believed to be alcoholic into the restaurant, Mims said.
The witnesses said Clemons and Adams loudly shouted profanities at the Waffle House employees. One of them shouted, “I’ll come over this counter” and threatened to beat the employee, saying “B—-, I’m going to have your job, you ain’t going to be here tomorrow.”
One of the witnesses, according to Mims, reported hearing: “I may have a gun, I may have anything. I can come back here and shoot this place up if I need to.”
Witnesses said Clemons refused to comply with the officers on multiple occasions, Mims said.
Mims said that from the investigation, race was not a factor in Clemons’s arrest or in her conversations with the Waffle House employees.
“It was based solely on the fact that they were asked to take their beverages out and not consume them on the premises based on Waffle House’s policy,” Mims said. “They did not feel it was related to any other circumstance.”
Little acknowledged that one of the officers told Clemons that he could break her arm during the arrest if she did not cooperate. Little said it was “a cause-and-effect statement, rather than a threat.”
“It’s common when an officer is using a technique to take a subject into custody that the force used could possibly create an injury,” Little said.
The arrest at the Waffle House comes as companies face questions about racial profiling and law enforcement’s response. Less than two weeks ago, a white Starbucks manager called the police with a loitering complaint against two African American men who had been sitting in the store for two minutes. The men were arrested, and in the following days, both the chief executive of Starbucks and Philadelphia’s police commissioner apologized.
The Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson said the manager probably acted on her own “unconscious bias” when she called 911.
Clemons’s father, Lamar Howard, told ABC News on Monday that his daughter deserved an apology “just like the two men in the Starbucks.”
It was unclear whether he meant an apology from Waffle House officials, the Saraland police or both. Howard could not be immediately reached for comment.
Clemons’s mother, Chiquitta Clemons-Howard, told AL.com that the Waffle House dispute arose after her daughter refused to pay an extra 50 cents for plastic utensils. Mims, the police detective, said utensil the issue did come up in the confrontation.
“The employee conveyed the message that ‘I don’t know how old the policy is, but it is now customary that if you ask for plastic utensils to dine in only, that there is a 50 cents charge,’ ” Mims said. “When they had a discussion about it between the patrons and the staff, they did provide the utensils before they took their order, and they were not going to be charged for it.”
Clemons-Howard told the news outlet that the Waffle House employees didn’t even ask her to daughter to leave. “She was waiting for them to give her the district manager’s card so she could file a complaint on one of the waitresses,” Clemons-Howard said. “When they went to go get the card, that’s when the police showed up. The officer should’ve come in and said we need you to leave.”
Clemons and Clemons-Howard could not be reached for comment. Waffle House restaurants provide plastic flatware on request at no charge, company spokesman Pat Warner told The Washington Post on Monday.
Waffle House said in a statement that police intervention was appropriate. “The information we have received at this point differs significantly from what has reportedly been attributed to Ms. Clemons,” the company said.
The Mobile chapter of the NAACP told AL.com it was also gathering information about the incident. “In light of the current situation in our country — such as the arrest of two young black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks coffee shop — we felt it was important for our members to get a firsthand account of the incident, which has now gone viral on social media locally and across the country,” said David Smith, the chapter president.
Chance the Rapper also weighed in Monday.
“Protect our women. This is wrong, this is unjust and this happens to alot of women when there are NO cameras around. Stand with our women. Defend their voice, and their right to ask why they’re being handled, being removed, being CHOKED. Be infuriated. Be willing to fight,” he wrote on Twitter. He included a link to the video and emoji of a middle finger and a pig snout in an apparent insult to police.
On the day of the incident in Alabama a gunman killed four people with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle at a Waffle House outside Nashville and fled the scene. The suspect has been taken into custody.
The shooting in Nashville and the arrest in Alabama culminated in a blistering few hours for the iconic Southern breakfast chain. According to its website, Waffle House has been in operation since 1955. Its more than 1,500 restaurants are open 24 hours a day all year long.