A Virginia prosecutor determined there was no legal basis for a March traffic stop that preceded a Black motorist’s arrest, and has called for an investigation into the incident.
The Washington Post reported Monday, May 10, that Fairfax Commonwealth attorney Steve Descano had dismissed all charges against 34-year-old Juanisha C. Brooks on April 16, and requested that the Virginia State Police open an internal affairs investigation.
A March traffic stop conducted by 49-year-old Virginia State police trooper Robert G. Hindenlang ended with Brooks facing four charges.
Brooks, a Department of Defense employee, spoke to NBC News about her ordeal on Tuesday. “I felt so helpless. All I could think about was Sandra Bland and Philando Castile.”
Brooks was heading home from celebrating her sister’s birthday on March 6 when she noticed emergency lights behind her and pulled over near the side of the highway, not far from her Alexandra, Virginia, home. She stopped, only after realizing the lights weren’t from an emergency vehicle that needed to pass by.
Dash camera footage of the encounter shows Brooks repeatedly asking why she was being pulled over, while Hindenlang only told her that he would show her if she stepped out of the car.
“Why I am I stepping out the car?” Brooks asked.
“You get out I’ll show you what’s wrong with your car,” Hindenlang, a 24-year veteran of the force responded. According to police, Brooks was pulled over by Hindenlang and a trainee because she appeared to be tailgating other vehicles, was driving without headlights and was making unsafe lane changes.
Hindenlang pulled Brooks from the car, handcuffed her and asked when she last had something to drink. Brooks said it had probably been about two hours.
Brooks declined to take a breathalyzer test and Hindenlang said he was charging her with drinking under the influence.
She was transported to Fairfax County Jail, where she took a breathalyzer test that showed a 0.0 blood alcohol level. Brooks was charged with misdemeanor eluding, obstruction of justice, reckless driving and failing to have on headlights.
In a letter addressed to the police department’s Office of Internal Affairs, Descano wrote that after reviewing the dashcam video, “it appears that the stop was without proper legal basis” given a recent change in the law that banned pulling people over for dark taillights, and that the video “does not provide a factual basis to support the warrants or summons issued.”
A statewide ban on pulling people over for dark taillights had gone into effect on March 1, days before the stop.
Descano determined that neither the headlight nor taillight statutes were violated. All charges against Brooks were dropped.
“It’s sickening and unacceptable that any member of our community fears for their safety during a routine traffic stop,” Descano said. He also called for Virginia State Police to conduct an internal investigation into the incident.
Brooks, who has top-secret clearance at the Pentagon, said the Department of Defense questioned her about the stop. “My whole livelihood was on the line,” Brooks said. “You can’t have any charges when you have a clearance.” She said she has filed a formal complaint against the department. Police spokesperson Corinne Geller said there is no record of the suit, and defended the officer’s conduct, saying there was “reasonable suspicion for the trooper to initiate a traffic stop.”