Nearly three months later, Tatyana Hargrove still can’t talk about what happened to her on June 18 without tearing up.
It had been a sweltering Sunday when, on a bike ride back from shopping for a Father’s Day gift, Hargrove was suddenly stopped by police officers in Bakersfield, Calif.
The officers had been looking for a suspect — described as a 25- to 30-year-old, bald black man standing 5 feet 10 and weighing about 170 pounds — who had threatened several people with a machete at a nearby grocery store, according to a police report.
Thinking she was that man — and despite her protests — the officers seized on the 5-foot-2, 115-pound Hargrove, in an altercation that escalated until police punched her in the mouth, unleashed a K-9 dog on her and arrested her. It wasn’t until officers placed her in their patrol car that they asked Hargrove’s name and realized she was female — and thus not the suspect they were looking for.
Though police later admitted it was a case of mistaken identity, Hargrove was charged with resisting or delaying an officer and aggravated assault on an officer. It wasn’t until August that those charges against her were dropped, her attorney said.
“It changed me. Very bad,” Hargrove, 19, said last week at a news conference. “My friends tell me I’m different.”
That’s about as far as she was able to get before breaking down crying.
“I hope and I pray this doesn’t happen to anybody else,” she said through tears.
Frustrated with what they say has been a lack of accountability for the officers’ actions, Hargrove is filing a claim against the city of Bakersfield. A precursor to a lawsuit, the claim will almost certainly lead to legal action against the city.
Neil K. Gehlawat, Hargrove’s attorney, said this option was the only way they felt they could bring justice in this case. Only the district attorney’s office or a U.S. attorney’s office has the ability to punish the officers, he added, but there was “virtually zero percent chance” they would.
“Our job is to hold the officers accountable for what happened and all the law allows us to do is to seek money,” Gehlawat said. “But our hope is that, by going through this process and by potentially having this case heard by a jury, that they will send a loud and clear message to the officers in the department that what happened is not appropriate and it should not happen again.”
Bakersfield police spokesman Ryan Kroeker said the department is aware a claim was filed and had been expecting it, but did not comment further. In July, a police spokesman told The Washington Post the department had determined the officers had exercised appropriate use of force on Hargrove.
Gehlawat said the Bakersfield police chief did call Hargrove and her parents to apologize for what happened, but also suggested Hargrove should have complied before complaining.
“Which I think is just victim-blaming,” Gehlawat said.
In a widely shared video of Hargrove’s account of the incident, filmed by the Bakersfield chapter of the NAACP in July, the teenager stands with a pair of crutches near the intersection where she was stopped by police and described how one of the officers demanded she give him her backpack, she said.
When she asked if they had a warrant, one of the officers gestured toward a police K-9 behind him, she said.
“I then got scared and then I was like, here, take the backpack, just take the backpack,” Hargrove added.
After that, she said in the video, the officer grabbed her by her wrist, then punched her and threw her onto the ground; shortly afterward, the police K-9 “came and started eating at my leg.”
The same officer then put his knee on her back and other knee against her head, despite her protests, she said.
“I told him ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’ and then I started yelling out, ‘Somebody help me, somebody help me! They’re gonna kill me!’” she said. “And then finally, he let me up, he tied my hands behind my back and then he tied my feet together and he threw me in the back of the car.”
Hargrove was arrested and taken to a nearby hospital for treatment of her injuries, including abrasions on her face and scrapes and punctures from the police K-9’s “engagement on her right thigh,” Christopher Moore, the arresting officer, wrote in his police report.
Moore wrote that “several nurses” at the hospital referred to Hargrove as a male and that “when I corrected them and advised she was a female they were surprised and apologized for the mistake.”
After she was treated for her injuries, Hargrove was booked into jail, the report said. She was detained for nearly 16 hours there before being bailed out by her parents, according to the NAACP.
In the police report, Moore wrote that Hargrove had “spun into” one of the officers with her left shoulder, causing him to fall backward, and then “quickly maneuvered her body to get back on top of him” after the officer punched her.
“At this time I was forced to quickly consider the following; [Hargrove] matched the description of the suspect that had brandished a machete, her backpack was within her arm’s reach and the main compartment was unzipped allowing her immediate access to the machete,” Moore wrote. After weighing whether he could use his Taser or baton on Hargrove, Moore wrote that he decided to unleash the police K-9, Hamer.
In the police report, Moore wrote that after officers placed Hargrove in a police car, she continued to scream out of the window at them for about five minutes.
“While Hargrove was in the back seat I asked what her name was and when she provided it as ‘Tatyana’ I said, ‘Don’t lie to me, that’s a girl’s name. What is your name?’ ” the police report stated. “Hargrove said, ‘I’m a girl, I just don’t dress like one.’ This was when I first discovered she was a female.”
A search of her backpack revealed no weapons, the report stated.
The claim against Bakersfield alleges police used “excessive and unreasonable force” against Hargrove, as well as civil rights violations under federal and state law.
“One of the questions in my mind is, even if this case is a case of mistaken identity, why didn’t they do more to ascertain her identity prior to using excessive force?” Gehlawat said.
He described the impossible situation Hargrove had been put in to reporters last week: “She tried to get the dog off of her. The officers described that as her not being compliant, but I bet that if any one of us had a canine biting onto some part of our body, our natural instinct might be to try to get the dog off of us so that the dog wouldn’t keep biting us.”
Though there is no fixed dollar amount attached to the claim, Gehlawat said Hargrove “deserves to be compensated for physical injuries and the emotional toll this has taken,” as well as medical bills and lost wages.
She has continued to see doctors about the injury to her right leg, which causes her to have trouble standing for longer than 15 minutes at a time, he added. Since the incident, Hargrove has not been able to return to her job at Little Caesars, where she was a team leader.
At the news conference last week, Hargrove said she has become “very paranoid,” reclusive, and won’t allow her parents to leave windows or doors unlocked.
“Her parents say that she used to be independent,” he said. “But now, around patrol vehicles, lights, sirens, she’s fearful … which is understandable because, the last time that happened, before she knew it an officer was pointing his gun at her and they had a canine biting her leg.”