A Tennessee woman plans to take legal action against her local police department after an officer ripped her top off, exposed her, and tackled her to the ground before slapping her with a slew of baseless charges that were all later dismissed.
Body-worn and dashboard camera footage shows the officer fabricated several details about the encounter. The charges against Trinity Clark were dropped. Knoxville police officer Joseph Roberts left the agency and is now facing criminal charges, but not because he manhandled Clark and lied about her arrest.
Roberts’ supervisors turned a blind eye. Details of Clark’s arrest were publicized after Roberts lied about a high-speed chase with another woman, Sara Davis, months later, while Clark was still trying to cope.
“We may have gotten rid of Officer Roberts due to the Ms. Davis incident,” Clark’s attorney, Lance Baker, told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “But what happens the next time when something similar happens like [Trinity Clark’s arrest], and it goes up to the superior officers and the same guys are reviewing it and they rubber stamp this behavior?”
Clark, 21, said she saw Roberts pulling over a woman in front of her house as she left in August to visit a friend who lived nearby. She was wearing three-quarter sweatshorts and a sports bra. It was reportedly 93 degrees in Knoxville that day.
Video footage shows the officer standing next to a red Chevrolet Camaro when Clark drove past after turning right out of her driveway. Roberts then got into his car and headed in the same direction. The officers wrote in his report that Clark turned on a street “at a high rate of speed causing the tires to squawk.”
However, Knox News reports that when Clark turned down that particular street, her tires did make any squealing noises. Roberts also lied when he wrote Clark fled from him as he was driving behind her: His dashcam video recording did not show that Roberts was behind the woman’s car until she got out.
Clark’s Ford Fusion was hardly in the view of the dash camera as he sped without his emergency lights in the same direction. He turned on his siren briefly to alert another driver as he passed a cross street, the video shows.
The footage shows that Clark pulled up to her friend’s house, parked, exited the car and was walking towards the front door when Roberts pulled up behind her car and flashed his light. He wrote in his report that his lights were on when Clark got out of the car.
“Come here,” Roberts told Clark from the sidewalk.
“Why?” Clark asked as she got closer to the front porch of the house.
“I pulled you over. Come here,” Roberts said.
“No, you didn’t,” Clark replied.
“Yes, I did. Get over here,” Roberts said.
Clark told reporters that she didn’t feel safe, so she stayed by the front porch of her friend’s house. Clark’s friend was on the porch and witnessed the interaction. She asked Roberts to come to the porch instead.
“What’s going on?” Roberts said.
“Nothing,” Clark said.
“OK,” Roberts said.
The officer attempted to grab the woman’s hand.
“What you want? I didn’t do nothing. You tripping,” Clark said.
Roberts attempted to take her down as she pulled away. Clark’s sports bra came off in the tussle. She squirmed away to cover her exposed breasts. Roberts continued to accost the woman who tried to swat away his hands from her body.
“You’re being detained,” Roberts said.
“Move! My ti——-s are out,” Clark said.
At Clark’s preliminary hearing, public defender Joe Sandford told the judge that the woman reacted as anyone would in those circumstances, according to reports.
“She struggled and did what she could to protect herself and her dignity as she was in a neighborhood getting tossed around by a police officer who had just taken her shirt off,” he said. “There was no intent for her to harm this officer. She was doing what she had to do to protect herself and her dignity.”
Clark told the News Sentinel she was afraid for her life.
“Don’t come over here pulling your gun out,” Clark’s friend yelled at the officer from the front porch.
“Get in the house! How about that!” he yelled at the other woman. Clark’s friend then called her mother from the house. But when the two women returned to the porch, Robert yelled at them to “get back in the f——-ing house.”
Six other officers arrived on the scene and held down Clark until finally, one got a shirt and covered her. Roberts told the officers that the women were “just coming out the house on me. All of them.”
Roberts wrote in his report that Clark punched him in the face and nipped his car, but the footage from the incident did not show that that occurred.
She was charged with an assault of a first responder, driving with a suspended license, evading arrest, flight in a vehicle, failure to yield right of way, resisting stop, arrest and search without a weapon and simple possession for a half of an ounce of marijuana.
“I had no idea that he was arresting for any of the things that he accused me of,” Clark said. “I never knew his whole reason behind the situation.”
Sandford said he was shocked by the “inaccuracies” in the officer’s sworn statement.
“His version of events did not reflect what I saw on the footage,” Sandford said. “It appeared to me that he fabricated parts of his narrative in an effort to justify his violent treatment of Ms. Clark.”
The judge who presided over the criminal case dismissed all of the charges.
“I just don’t see the probable cause,” Judge Tony Stansberry said. “To me, this is disturbing. I’m going to dismiss everything. Everything is dismissed.”
At least three of Roberts’ supervisors saw the footage of the violent encounter and only took issue with the officer’s harsh language. A top oversight official said she found out about the case after it made the news.
Knoxville Police spokesperson Scott Erland said the supervisors did not condone the officer’s behavior, but his actions did not go beyond the department’s use-of-force policy. It was also up to the judicial system to determine if the charges would stick.
Even though the charges have been dropped, Clark still worries that the arrest may ruin her chances of completing her degree at Tennessee State University. Local news outlets plastered her arrest and mugshot. She was not cleared of the charges until December.
In January, Roberts reportedly chased the other woman, Davis, in rush-hour traffic at speeds of up to 100 mph ending in a crash that injured three people. Roberts tried to turn off his dash camera in that instance, but the device automatically turns on when a patrol car goes up to certain speeds, according to reports. He denied chasing the car.
Roberts resigned from the department in April, a year and two months after graduating from the academy. He pleaded guilty to destroying or tampering with records, according to reports.
Still, Clark said she is traumatized by the encounter.
“I want [Roberts’] actions to be brought to light. I want him held accountable for something,” Clark said. “Because I went through something, and I just feel like he shouldn’t be able to be reinstated. I don’t think that’s the right field for him, to be an officer. I just don’t.”