“Would he have done that to a White woman? No,” Juanisha C. Brooks said of the Virginia State trooper. “He didn’t see me as a human being.”
Criminal charges have been dropped against a Black government employee who was dragged out of her car during a traffic stop in March. It’s now been determined that a Virginia State Police trooper had no legal merit to detain Juanisha C. Brooks.
Virginia State Police Trooper Robert G. Hindenlang pulled Brooks over on March 6 on her drive home on the Capital beltway shortly after 2 a.m., The Washington Post reported. Dashcam footage of the incident showed that Brooks repeatedly asked why she was being pulled over, but a response wasn’t given.
Hindenlang insisted she step out of the Honda but did not state that her taillights were out. Brooks refused to get out of her car and within five minutes, Hindenlang forcibly removed Brooks from her car and handcuffed her. She admitted to taking one drink but refused a sobriety test which escalated the matter.
“You’re under arrest for driving under the influence,” Hindenlang told Brooks.
Hindenlang, 49, also took to questioning why Brooks’s eyes were “watery” when he approached her.
“Why were my eyes watering?” Brooks answered the trooper. “Because people are being shot by the police, I’m freaking nervous.”
Brooks was taken to Fairfax County jail and took two sobriety tests which showed a 0.0 blood alcohol level. Hindenlang then decided to charge her with resisting arrest, eluding police, failing to have headlights on, and reckless driving.
The humiliation Brooks went through was compounded when her Honda was towed under the direction of Hindenlang in which her wallet and ID were still inside the vehicle. Following her release, Hindenlang offered her a Post-It note to locate her car and claimed that her late mother was waiting for her.
“Oh,” Hindenlang responded, then walked off.
Brooks was stranded at the police station until a jail magistrate took pity on her, drove her to the Vienna metro station and gave her $20 per The Post. After waiting at the closed station for an hour, Brooks had to take a train, two buses, and a cab to the tow lot in Lorton, Virginia, then pay $240 to retrieve her vehicle.
Police have maintained that Hindenlang pulled Brooks over because he “observed the Honda traveling on I-495 without any headlights or tail lights.”
However, the written report did not reflect such observations.
Patrick M. Blanch, an attorney for Brooks, showed the cam footage to prosecutors which prompted Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descanso to dismiss all charges. Descano also ordered an internal investigation and found that “the stop was without proper legal basis.”
“It’s sickening and unacceptable that any member of our community fears for their safety during a routine traffic stop. That’s why I will not rest until we bring about the day when this is no longer the case,” Descano said in a statement.
Descano cited a March 1 edict from The Virginia General Assembly which banned police from pulling over drivers due to dark taillights. Brooks told the Washington Post that she had simply forgotten to turn on her headlights that night which took its toll on her physically and emotionally.
“I went through emotional trauma. I haven’t slept a full night since. Three hours here, four hours there. Every single day I think about it,” Brooks said.
She believed that Hindenlang would’ve offered her the opportunity to explain the situation had she been white.
“Would he have done that to a White woman? No,” Brooks said. “He didn’t see me as a human being.…This has to stop. It’s racism at its core, and it should be seen as such.”
She feared for her life that evening.
“I’ve seen how these situations play out,” Brooks said. “I was in fear for my life, that I would be shot.”
Brooks was also worried about her job as she is a Defense department employee with a top-secret clearance. Following her arrest, she was questioned by officials.
“My whole livelihood was on the line,” Brooks said. “You can’t have any charges when you have a clearance.”
The state police are conducting an internal investigation into the incident involving Brooks and Hindenlang, a 24-year veteran of the force. The Virginia State Police insists that the traffic stop was legal and that race played no factor.
“At no time during the traffic stop,” Corinne Geller, the spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police said, “did any Virginia State Police personnel make a direct or indirect reference to Ms. Brooks’s race, ethnicity, nationality or gender.”
Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, differed and claimed the interaction was just another example of prejudiced policing.
“The trooper unnecessarily escalated this situation in a circumstance in which a contributing factor clearly was the trooper’s own failure to show any empathy for why a Black woman might be afraid to stop for police late at night,” she said.
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