A Black Texas couple were subjects of mistaken identity gone terribly wrong as police searching for teenagers left the elderly couple traumatized as they were held at gunpoint and handcuffed. The couple has since filed a lawsuit against the department accusing them of excessive force.
“I was afraid because I didn’t know what was going on, I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong,” said Regina Armstead.
Armstead, 57, and her boyfriend, Michael Lewis, 67, were leaving a seafood dinner on the evening of Nov. 6, 2020, when they encountered several Rosenberg Police officers while driving home. The city of Rosenberg, Texas, is about 30 miles west of Houston and has a population of about 38,000, 15 percent of them Black.
When Armstead and Lewis were confronted by police, the officer activated the emergency lights and ordered the couple to pull over.
“So I tried to move over to the right side because I thought they were trying to get by, and so they got behind me again and I turned the radio down and I could hear them saying, turn the car off and throw the keys out of the window and all of that stuff,” Armstead said.
According to the lawsuit filed by the couple on August 4, 2022, against the City of Rosenberg, its police department and five of its officers were looking for a group of Black teenagers who allegedly brandished a gun to a group of kids and then fled in a white vehicle with tinted windows and black rims that day. Armstead was driving a white Dodge Charger similar to the car the teens reportedly got away in, leading to the traffic stop.
“They pulled us over because they were looking for three teens with a gun who were shooting at some other teens, and I said, if that’s the case, they’re gone now, you’re fooling with us,” Armstead said of the incident.
The suit alleges, the officers ordered Armstead out of the car and onto the ground, and on her knees as an officer’s gun remain pointed at her. She was then handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car. Meanwhile, Lewis, a dialysis patient was also handcuffed. He says when officers placed him in handcuffs, it posed a serious heath risk.
“When they put them handcuffs on me, I told them, I can’t have nothing on my arm at all because that will mess up my fistula,” Lewis said.
Despite telling officers of his medical condition, the officers disregarded those warnings causing the medical devices in Lewis’ wrist to malfunction resulting in three medical procedures according to the lawsuit. While the couple remained detained, officers then searched their car and it was not until nearly an hour later did the focal point of the traffic stop get addressed, Lewis and Armstead were not the teenagers the officers were after.
“We didn’t favor the three guys they were looking for, but they should have known that when they pulled me out of the car that I was not one of the guys,” Armstead said.
“There were a number of constitutional violations that we alleged, the obviously excessive force with the brandishing of the guns, the handcuffing of Mr. Lewis, the constitutionality of the stop in the first place, whether there was reasonable suspicion based on the fact that there wasn’t a very clear match between our clients and the suspects the police were looking for,” said Lauren Bonds, the attorney representing the couple in the lawsuit.
Atlanta Black Star received a statement from Rosenberg Police Chief Jonathan White regarding the lawsuit and allegations within it.
“The Rosenberg Police Department is aware of media stories involving a lawsuit filed against the police department regarding an incident on November 6, 2020. While we are disappointed in the amount of incorrect information found in the plaintiff’s complaint and media articles, we will respect our justice system by responding to the appropriate court with factual information,” White’s statement said.
Bonds says, her office tried to get their hands on body camera video of the traffic stop, but were told by a public records city official, “they don’t have a video from the stop” leading Bonds to question if the officers ever activated their body cameras or dash cameras or if the footage was deleted.
Bonds described via email her efforts to obtain police officials account of what happened during the stop:
“The only record of the stop we received was an incident report that included next to no details. We made several public information act requests between April and June of this year for any record that mentioned our clients names, their license plate numbers, as well as requests for documents for stops made at the time and date that our clients were stopped. Rosenberg’s public records officer informed us that no such documents existed. Unfortunately they were not able to tell us if the documents previously existed but were later destroyed pursuant to a departmental records retention policy or if they were never created in the first place.
“We are eager to hear RPD’s response to the allegations in the complaint. Not only to our clients’ allegations but to the dozens of other civilians who alleged they experienced or witnessed similar misconduct.”
The lawsuit has an unspecified dollar amount of damages at this time. In addition to potential monetary damages, another aim of the lawsuit is to persuade Rosenberg police to change the way they interact with the City’s non-white population.
“I want it to be better for people around here because they mess with a lot of people of color,” Armstead said of the intended purpose of the lawsuit.
Armstead and Lewis say they did not receive any citations during the traffic stop by Rosenberg police.