“Scared for my life”: Black woman describes violent traffic stop
Editor’s note: The bodycam video featured in this story is disturbing.
In a federal lawsuit, a 68-year-old Black librarian is accusing North Carolina law enforcement officers of using excessive force against her during a traffic stop. Body camera footage shows the officers grabbing Stephanie Bottom by her hair and throwing her to the ground after she was stopped for speeding in May of 2019.
Bottom was driving from Georgia to North Carolina for her great-aunt’s funeral when she was stopped. Her offenses, according to police: speeding 10 miles over the speed limit and not pulling over for officers in Salisbury, North Carolina.
Bottom said she was listening to loud music and didn’t realize the police were behind her and trying to stop her. In the video, the then-66-year-old grandmother of five is seen face down on the ground after being dragged out of her car.
“I was shocked,” she told “CBS This Morning” lead national correspondent David Begnaud. “I was in fear. I was scared for my life. I didn’t know whether they were gonna shoot me.”
In body camera footage released by Bottom’s attorney, an officer tells Bottom that three police cars had been following her for about 10 miles.
They used spike strips to flatten her tires and stop her.
“You put a lot of people in danger tonight, ma’am,” an officer says in the footage.
“How?” Bottom asks. “… I didn’t know you guys was chasing after me. I was listening to my music.”
She told Begnaud when she saw the police cars behind her, “I was like, why are these policemen, you know, behind me?”
It happened on Interstate 85 in Salisbury.
“Pretty exciting chase here,” one of the officers says in the footage. “I’m at the edge of my seat, baby.”
As police pursued, the officer also said, “What’s wrong with this f—— –tard?”
Bottom’s attorney Ian Mance said Bottom was no threat and law enforcement had an idea of that.
“They also pull up alongside her and talk amongst themselves that this is an older Black female,” Mance said. “She’s by herself. They later wrote an incident report where they said that when they pulled up alongside her she held her hand up in a manner that suggested she was not sure what was going on.”
Bottom’s lawsuit alleges that after the incident the officers congratulated each other.
“That’s good police work, baby,” an officer says in the bodycam footage.
One even brags about grabbing a “handful of dreads.”
“At that point she earned it,” an officer says.
Bottom is suing the three officers who removed her from her vehicle, the sheriff of Rowan County, North Carolina, and the city of Salisbury for using excessive force. She said they tore her rotator cuff.
“My shoulder, I have a torn ligament in my shoulder,” Bottom says in the bodycam footage.
Begnaud asked Bottom what she wanted to say to the officers.
“You hurt me,” Bottom said. “You can’t hurt vulnerable people. You can’t force and brutalize innocent people. If I was guilty for not stopping right away or speeding, it did not call for what you did to me, and you need to be held responsible.”
Bottom pleaded guilty to failure to heed to the blue lights. She was also initially charged with speeding and resisting an officer. Those charges were dismissed.
CBS News reached out to the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and the three responding officers and have not heard back.
The Salisbury Police Department declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for the city of Salisbury told CBS News it cannot comment on pending litigation.
It did previously issue a statement saying, “The Salisbury Police Department strives for positive interactions with our residents and visitors.”
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