WHITE PLAINS – “All I want is justice for my girls,” said Melissa Johnson of Poughkeepsie while standing on the steps of a federal court house in White Plains. The mother of teenage daughters, Jamelia Barnett and Julissa Dawkins, has alleged that her children were falsely arrested and brutalized by Poughkeepsie police officers who responded to a report of “15 to 20 kids fighting” on March 11th of this year.
During a news conference on Monday the family shared their experience which they described as deeply traumatic. “This event changed both of them,” said Johnson, who told reporters that her daughters have been suffering from depression and insomnia after the incident.
Julissa was not painting all police officers with the same brush.
“We’re not trying to say all cops are racist, but we are African-American females and they were white,” stated Julissa. “The way they handled us is not right.”
“I feel like the handle black people in a different manor,” lamented Jamelia. The family’s attorney, William Wagstaff, has alleged that Jamelia suffered a concussion after being thrown to the ground by her arresting officer and that she was later denied access to sanitary napkins after she begin bleeding while in police custody.
The attorney has maintained that his clients were bystanders to the fight which he claims had ended before police arrived at the scene. “Rather than deescalating the situation they escalated it,” said Wagstaff.
The city conducted an investigation into the incident and found an officer in quelling the situation, did not use excessive force.
During the news conference on Monday, Wagstaff also alleged detectives threatened the girls with jail time if they refused to give statements or cooperate to support the arresting officers’ narrative. “Even worse, they held one witness in custody for close to five hours while police personnel deleted video evidence off her cellphone.”
The attorney further stated that Poughkeepsie Mayor Robert Rolison, a retired police officer, “was made aware of the witness intimidation and destruction of evidence” but took no action to remedy the situation. He implicitly called for Rolison’s resignation on Monday asserting “any elected official who consents to the destruction of evidence is not fit for office.”
The family hopes that the suit could pave the way for reform in police training and benefit their community. ”I feel as if it’s actually going to work out and that we’re doing good,” said Julissa.