In the early morning of March 6, Juanisha Brooks was headed home when she noticed emergency lights trailing her on I-495.
Believing it was an ambulance in distress, she pulled over on the shoulder of a highway exit ramp close to her home in Alexandria, Virginia, about 15 minutes from where she had eaten dinner, reports NBC News.
It was sometime past 2 a.m.
Instead, Virginia State Trooper Robert G. Hindenlang was pulling her over, only she said she wasn’t sure why despite asking him.
A state prosecutor later concluded there was no basis for the traffic stop.
Yet, Brooks found herself being pulled over in the dark and cold.
“To my surprise, it immediately escalated,” said Brooks, 34, a Black woman who works for the Defense Department.
Hindenlang asked her multiple times to exit her vehicle without initially providing an explanation, dashcam video shows.
“What made you pull me over?” Brooks asked.
“Can you step outside and I’ll show you,” Hindenlang responded, according to the dashcam video.
When she didn’t get out of the car, Hindenlang, who has been a trooper for 24 years, unlocked Brooks’ door and dragged her out of the car. He then forced her against the vehicle and handcuffed her.
Brooks tried reaching for her cellphone, but it fell out of her hands during the tussle.
“That was my lifeline to record what was happening. When that dropped, I really became fearful for my life and truly thought I was going to die,” she said. “I felt so helpless. All I could think about was Sandra Bland and Philando Castile.”
Bland, a Black woman, was found hanged in a Texas jail cell in July 2015 days after she was arrested during a traffic stop. Castile, a Black man, was fatally shot by a Minnesota police officer during a traffic stop in July 2016.
“I always thought police were there to serve and protect. But now, I don’t believe that,” Brooks said. “Every instance where I could have been protected, he chose to harm.”
After she declined a breathalyzer test, Hindenlang said he was charging her with driving under the influence, according to the dashcam audio.
Brooks was taken to the Fairfax County Jail, where she took a breathalyzer test that showed a 0.0 blood alcohol level, according to a Virginia State Police investigative report.
She was charged with misdemeanor eluding, obstruction of justice, reckless driving, and failing to have headlights on, a Virginia State Police Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano dismissed all charges against Brooks on April 16 and requested the Virginia State Police open an internal affairs investigation.
“It’s sickening and unacceptable that any member of our community fears for their safety during a routine traffic stop,” he said.
In a letter addressed to the division commander of the state police’s Office of Internal Affairs, Descano wrote that after reviewing the dashcam video, “it appears that the stop was without proper legal basis” given a recent change in the law that banned pulling people over for dark taillights and that the video “does not provide a factual basis to support the warrants or summons issued.”