Shortly after leaving her serving job at a restaurant near Concord Mills mall last summer, Naomi Winfrey said she was pulled over by Concord police for running a red light, dragged from her car and briefly knocked unconscious as she was being arrested.
In a Jan. 24 memo to update Concord Police Chief Guy Smith, Major Walter Stofford describes the incident that unfolded just before midnight Aug. 5, 2011. Police say the 28-year-old was uncooperative, resisted arrest and struck the arresting officer with her hands and feet.
The 5-foot-3-inch, 117-pound mother of two is charged with two misdemeanors: assault on a government official and resisting a public officer, as well as failure to stop at a stop light and driving while her license was revoked. Her trial, originally scheduled for Jan. 25, was rescheduled last week for March 27.
Last week, friends, family and coworkers demonstrated in front of the Cabarrus County Courthouse to show support for Winfrey and to express outrage against what they believe was an act of police brutality.
They carried signs that said, "Police brutality will not be tolerated," along with enlarged photographs of Winfrey's head injury and blood splattered on the trunk of her car.
After the incident, Winfrey was transported by Cabarrus County EMS to Carolinas Medical Center-NorthEast, where she was treated for various injuries, including a subarachnoid hemorrhage - bleeding between the brain and the tissues that cover the brain - and a cut behind her right ear. She was discharged just before 9 a.m. the next morning.
As told by police
Stofford's memo says arresting officer Chris Carpenter saw Winfrey driving through a red light at the intersection, turning left onto Concord Mills Boulevard and nearly colliding with another vehicle. Winfrey says the light was green.
After Winfrey was pulled over, the memo says, she refused to comply with Carpenter's repeated requests for her to exit the vehicle.
The memo says Carpenter removed Winfrey from the vehicle with assistance of Officer Miranda Ross.
"While struggling to remove Ms. Winfrey from the vehicle, Officer Carpenter was assaulted by Ms. Winfrey," the memo says. "Once (she) was removed ... she continued to struggle with the officers."
According to the memo, Carpenter lost his balance during the struggle, and he and Winfrey fell to the road, injuring Winfrey in the process.
A bystander started recording a video after Winfrey was removed from the vehicle and was in handcuffs, leaning on the rear of the car. The video shows Winfrey slump, unable to stand on her own, and fall briefly to her knees.
In the video, an officer can be seen and heard asking Winfrey, "How many cops does it take to screw in a light bulb?"
As told by Winfrey
When the police stopped her, Winfrey said she pulled over, rolled down the window, put the car in park and waited for the officer. Then she heard someone yelling at her to turn off the car.
She said the officer's body language and demeanor caused her to pause. Frightened, she said, she asked him not to yell.
"I asked him again politely, because I wanted to let this guy know I'm not a threat," she said.
But Carpenter got angrier then, she said, and ordered her out of the car. She said she just wanted to ask why she was pulled over.
"He said, 'If you don't get out of the car, I'm going to drag you out,' " said Winfrey. "I looked at him in shock and stared at him for a while like a deer in headlights. I'm staring at him, he's looking back at me, and within a matter of seconds ... he unlocks the door, opens it and proceeds to physically and violently get me out of the car."
Winfrey said Carpenter grabbed her neck in a hook fashion, trying to remove her head first.
She said she instinctively held on, out of fear for her life, and then Carpenter grabbed her legs and twisted her out of the vehicle. In the process, Winfrey said she remember her pants were slightly pulled down and she was exposed, so she tried to pull up her pants. She said she did not assault the officer.
Winfrey said she remembers two impacts, and one left a dent in her car. She also said she remembers her feet dangling in the air at one point.
Winfrey said the officer could have exercised better judgment.
"A woman in a work shirt, with two (child) car seats in the back, asking politely, is not a threat...," she said.
'... She was frightened'
Winfrey said she still deals with headaches and other psychological issues stemming from the incident.When she was in the hospital, she told nurses she didn't want to be around Carpenter because she was afraid of him.
"He said, 'Well, you're going to be with me all night,' " said Winfrey. "And, unfortunately, that has resonated with me. For a few months after that, I was waking up on the hour, and I could hear this guy saying, 'I'm going to be with you all night.' "
Winfrey said it went far beyond a misunderstanding, that the officer was wrong and that he even appeared to enjoy the arrest.
"I have to do something about it," she said. "I can't let it slide."
Winfrey and her boyfriend, Brendon Rowell, are North Carolina natives and have lived in the university area for about nine years. Rowell said he and his girlfriend have been servers at the same restaurant for years, and Winfrey has worked as a server since high school.
Rowell was still working when he got word about his girlfriend getting pulled over.
"When I did see her, she had blood coming out of the back of her head," said Rowell. "I thought, 'This doesn't happen.' There were seven cops out there, an ambulance, fire trucks, three lanes shut down to one lane.
"She was beaten and bruised and gave me a look that I'll never forget in my life - seeing that from the person that I love was really traumatic. She didn't want them to see her tears, but you could tell she was frightened."Winfrey said she didn't know her license was revoked from a ticket she had been issued in 2010. She was about eight months pregnant and moving, and she forgot to resolve the issue on time. It has since been resolved, she said.