(FAYETTEVILLE, N.C.) — Police in Fayetteville, North Carolina, are investigating an incident involving a 22-year-old Black woman after she said officers assaulted and unlawfully handcuffed her in September.
Ja’Lana Dunlap’s attorneys released video footage of the incident, taken on Dunlap’s phone, this week.
On Sept. 6, Dunlap, a property manager at the time, said she was taking pictures of the property she oversees on behalf of the owner, who had recently gotten a citation from the city about people illegally dumping furniture and trash on the site.
“I was planning to take pictures because we had already hired somebody to clean it up,” Dunlap told ABC News. “So, I was just making sure that they did their job.”
After taking the photos, Dunlap said she had returned to her car when two Fayetteville police officers, who were searching for a suspected fugitive, approached asking why she was on the property. Dunlap said she responded, providing her name and explaining that she was taking photos for her boss.
Dunlap said one officer asked her to provide identification. She said she declined, knowing North Carolina is not a “Stop and Identify” state, meaning Dunlap was not legally obligated to provide her ID if she had not committed or been suspected of committing a crime.
“I know my story checks out,” Dunlap said. “I know if I didn’t do anything wrong, I shouldn’t have to give you my ID.”
But Dunlap said the officer continued to demand she provide her ID, at which point Dunlap began to record the encounter with her phone because she said she feared for her safety.
Soon after, she said another officer reached into the vehicle and grabbed her left arm. Dunlap can be heard repeatedly on the video recording asking the officers to “Please stop.”
The officers ask her to step out of the vehicle and when she doesn’t, they tell her to “stop resisting.” Dunlap tells the officer that she will exit the vehicle if they let go of her arm.
The cell phone video she released does not show the beginning of the encounter and becomes shaky once it appears that police pull her out. Afterwards, they pull her out — which is not shown in the video because officers took her phone — and Dunlap alleges that officers slammed her against the trunk and placed her in handcuffs.
Dunlap, who suffers from sickle cell anemia, said she began hyperventilating due to the stress, at one point even vomiting.
“They were actually trying to yank me back up with the handcuffs behind my back to the point where I had to ask, ‘Y’all please stop so I can finish throwing up,"” she said.
The officers eventually removed the fluorescent fanny pack around Dunlap’s waist to grab her ID, she said, and released her after verifying her identity.
She said her left hand was bruised and swollen for a week after the incident and still has visible scratches.
“I really was trying to do everything to still keep my composure, remain calm, but when you’re scared and terrified and you can’t call anybody,” she said. “You go into fight or flight pretty much, you go into survival mode.”
Dunlap, who was never arrested or charged with any crime, later filed a formal complaint to the Fayetteville Police Department.
Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins said in a statement that she understands why the cellphone video “causes concern and the desire of the public to know more.”
Hawkins said she is making a formal request for an area judge to permit the release of police body camera footage from the incident. An investigation is already underway and will be expedited by the Internal Affairs Unit, the police chief said.
Hawkins also explained that officers approached Dunlap in a vacant lot 0.5 miles from where a potentially violent suspect ran away from police. Once police confirmed she was not the suspect, they let her go.
While Dunlap said she has seen the police department’s official statements on the incident, she said she has yet to receive a personal response or apology.
“You’re addressing my video footage but you’re not addressing me as a person or how I would feel about the situation,” she said.
Attorney Harry Daniels who is representing Dunlap, along with attorney Carnell Johnson, said he plans to file a federal lawsuit on her behalf.
“Quite frankly, I believe that Ms. Dunlap would not be subjected, would not be here today having this discussion if she was a different race,” Daniels said. “I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. I think they intimidated her because she’s a person of color. And we are here to fight on her behalf.”
Dunlap said she has since resigned from her job as a property manager, in part because of her experience.
“I just had to resign just for my mental health,” she said.
Now, she said she is just trying to take every day “one step at a time.”
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