For Deondra Hawkins, 39, what should have been a routine trip to the gas station turned into a nightmare when police in the Atlanta suburb of Cobb County ambushed her, her 14-year-old daughter and adult autistic son.
“It was pure confusion. The police pulled up with their guns out and demanded we get out of the car, and I had no idea what I could have possibly have done,” Hawkins said of her encounter with police.
Bystanders watched the chaos as a scared Hawkins walked slowly with her hands raised while police shouted commands toward her. She says she and her children were handcuffed and detained in police cars. “They didn’t say anything, they handcuffed us and didn’t tell us anything until the end,” Hawkins said.
The ordeal grew more bizarre for Hawkins once police finally explained to her what was going on and who they are pursuing. “After we were unhandcuffed, they told us they were looking for a [male] suspect, tall, slim, Black and had a car that was my make and model,” Hawkins said.
Cobb County police say nearly an hour earlier at 2:54 p.m. on March 18, officers responded to an armed robbery at a T-Mobile store where a male suspect armed with a pistol was seen running across the parking lot and escaping in a white Hyundai Sonata.
Police thought they found the car in question 51 minutes later that matched the color, make and model 9 miles away at a Race Trac gas station, which caused officers to focus on Hawkins, her teenage daughter and adult son.
“Unfortunately, they took a take action, ask questions later approach and they did that with a child and that’s completely unacceptable,” said Kayla Bumpus, Hawkins’ attorney.
Bumpus says she wants answers from police, including details on the tall, slim man police were seeking when they stopped Hawkins.
“This was an open gas station full of people, and of all the cars to pick and of all the people there, you pick this family, completely innocent,” Bumpus said.
Bumpus says so far, no lawsuits have been filed and she is trying to gather all available video footage before deciding how they will proceed with this incident. “Why did this go the way it went, getting the bodycam, getting the footage from Race Trac before we can even more forward and see what next steps we need to take,” Bumpus said.
Hawkins says nearly a week after the horrifying experience, the police have not reached out to her to apologize, and she and her children are dealing with the psychological effects from their police encounter. She wants the police to receive better training to prevent incidents like this from happening to other innocent people.
“Better training so they don’t handle people so roughly and better training where they don’t suspect everyone of being a suspect,” Hawkins said.
“They have not only been embarrassed but traumatized so now it’s about trying to get them the resources to get them back to a healthy state physically and emotionally,” Bumpus said of her client and children.
Atlanta Black Star requested a photo of the man police were after but did not receive it at the time of this report. The Cobb County Police Department confirmed it is still investigating the case.