‘Why Are You Treating Me Like a Criminal?’: Black Student Goes to Illinois Police to Seek Help for Fire, Is Cornered By Cops Who Violently Seize Her Phone While She’s On FaceTime with Mother 

The 18-year-old daughter of a Chicago police officer filed a federal lawsuit against the Normal Police Department on Feb. 23. Taylor Brown was arrested in the central Illinois town of Normal after a fire broke out in her apartment.

According to the lawsuit, a fire erupted in Brown’s apartment on Feb. 8 in Normal, where Brown attends college. The student’s roommate dialed 911, and the fire department arrived at the unit located near 208 Parktrail Road with the police at around 12:42 a.m.

Taylor Brown
College student Taylor Brown, 18, is detained after she agreed to answer questions following a fire in her Normal, Illinois, apartment on Feb. 9, 2023. (Photo: WGLT News/YouTube Screenshot)

Brown was asked to go with officers to the police department for questioning, to which she agreed.

“Upon arrival, the police officers who responded to the call with the fire officials asked Ms.
Brown to wait in a squad car that was parked in front of her residence until the officers
were ready to speak to her,” says the lawsuit. “Shortly thereafter, an Unknown Normal Police Officer asked Ms. Brown if she would be willing to go to the Normal Police Station to answer questions about the fire.”

While at the police station, Brown called her Chicago Police Department mother on FaceTime as she stood in what appeared to be a lobby waiting for the officers to ask her about the fire in her apartment. She waited more than 40 minutes and asked to go home after no one questioned her. Video footage shows a female police officer approaching Brown in the lobby and informing the confused and displaced student that they were seizing her phone.

“Who are you on the phone with? So, we’re gonna need to seize your phone,” said the officer as Brown asked her why. “Seize my phone? For what?”

“So, go ahead and hang up,” the officer replied.

Brown told her mother on the video, “I’m not under arrest, but they wanna seize my phone.”

“You’re not under arrest, but your phone’s gonna be seized,” the officer replied as she reached for Brown’s phone. Brown backed up a step as several other police officers can be seen tactically surrounding her. The student refused to give up her phone and told her mother she was afraid.

“They’re all around me,” Brown told her mother.

“Listen for a second,” said the officer. “So, the fire is going to be under investigation. And we’re gonna seize your phone.”

The confused student again asked why her phone was being seized, and the officer responded, “Because we are. The fire is under investigation.”

Brown tried to say she needed to understand why she was being detained, but the officer cut her off and said, “So, you can hand me your phone, or I can take the phone.”

Her mother could be heard saying that Brown was never told that her phone would be seized when she agreed to go to the police station. The officer explained that they were waiting for the detective to make that determination. After Brown replied that she hadn’t been told about the detective and had just been told she was being taken home, the officer said she wasn’t going to argue with Brown.

“You can hang up your phone, and I can take you home, Yep,” said the officer.

Brown told her mother, “It’s 3 a.m. I can’t go nowhere without my phone.”

The college student’s mother could be heard asking where her daughter was supposed to go, being that her apartment had just been destroyed by the fire. Brown asked the officer if she could talk to the first officer she spoke with, to which the officer replied, “Nope. We’re not gonna do that. So you can hang up the phone, or I’m gonna take the phone. That’s how this is gonna work.”

The back and forth continued as Brown questioned why she couldn’t leave with her phone and the officer asked if she wanted to be interviewed by the detective.

“The question is, are you gonna provide an interview?”

“No,” replied Brown.

“OK,” said the officer. “Hand me the phone,” as she grabbed the phone from Brown and three other officers knocked her to the ground as they said, “Relax. We just want your phone.”

Brown said to her mother, “They trying to get me removed with no protection!”

The female officer said, “Taylor, Give me your hand” several times as a male officer said, “I’m gonna keep doing the pressure point until you let go.”

After Brown heard one officer ask for handcuffs, she screamed, “Oh my God! You guys are putting me in cuffs? No,” as she screamed she wasn’t under arrest.

“Relax your arm, Taylor. You’re under arrest.”

“I’m under arrest for what?”

“You all have no right. I want you to think about how you’re doing another Black woman. I came down here willingly. Why am I on the floor?… I’m a f—g human!”

After the officers got Brown off the ground, she again said she was shocked she was being treated so badly, especially by a female Black officer while noting the others were all white. “OK, you also kicked me in the head, so,” replied the officer.

Brown replied, “I came down here willingly because I trusted you, and look at what you’re doin’.”

A detective then asked Brown if she would provide her statement, and she said she was being forced to and asked for a lawyer. The female officer then says Brown was being charged with resisting arrest and the aggravated assault of a police officer.

“Oh my God,” exclaimed the 18-year-old. “OK, I’ll do the interview,” to which the officer replied, “you still have the charges.”

Brown replied that she was the one who had been assaulted. After asking if something was being put on her record, she was told she was going to jail. “I kicked you off because you all were manhandling me I couldn’t move. I was scared, hello! You would do the same thing. … Are you guys serious right now? I just got out of high school!”

Another detective explained that he still wanted an interview, though it’s unclear why. “I get one call, I know that much,” said Brown. “It’s called defending myself when I know I’m in harm’s way. … Why are you treating me like a criminal? There was a fire at my house!”

The cause of the fire was determined to have started in a garden-level apartment due to repairs being done in the unit. “The fire spread inside the walls and void spaces and extended into the attic before the fire department arrived,” the Normal Fire Department said in a statement.

Brown hired an attorney Abby Bakos of Bakos & Maisuria Law Group, who said the Normal PD officers illegally seized her phone. Brown’s federal complaint states that the Normal police attempted to obtain a search warrant for Brown’s cellphone, but it was not approved by the state’s attorney.

“These police officers what they did to her was just unfortunate and wrong. Without having that initial probable cause, we already know she wasn’t initially under arrest,” said Bakos to 25News. “In not giving them the phone I just don’t see how they have any justification in using any sort of force to apprehend her for any reason. They made a mistake, and I just hope they take responsibility for that and own up to that mistake.”

Brown’s mother said her daughter was traumatized by the experience.

“I just held her so tight and said it’s going to be OK, baby. It’s going to be OK, and she just kept crying. I just told her it’s going to be OK.”

The college student added that she still can’t believe how she was treated and described the feeling she had while being surrounded by the officers.

“In that moment I feel like I was alone,” she said. “It’s all of them-it’s a community of them, and it’s me standing alone in this situation.”

Brown was strip-searched at the McLean County Jail. She was released the following day with no charges filed against her.

“I’m wondering why the treatment I was given was received,” she added. “I want to take all those emotions and turn it into something I can look back on and say this is what happened to me, but this is what came out of it, and that’s just something I want to be proud of myself to be able to do.”

The lawsuit states that Brown is asking for compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorneys’ fees and court costs.

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