Crime & Courts

‘This nation has to change’: Sisters speak out after south Charlotte racial incident

Video shows woman ranting at black women in Myers Park

Criminal charges are pending for the woman who is seen in this video assaulting two African-American women in a parking lot in Charlotte’s Myers Park neighborhood.
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Criminal charges are pending for the woman who is seen in this video assaulting two African-American women in a parking lot in Charlotte’s Myers Park neighborhood.

Leisa Garris said she moved to her south Charlotte apartment because it was in a safe neighborhood and had a low crime rate.

She had been living at Camden Fairview for almost a year on Oct. 19. She hadn’t had any problems, she said, until a blonde woman approached Garris and her sister, who are African-American, in the parking lot.

The woman, who has been identified by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police as 51-year-old Susan Westwood, cursed at Leisa Garris and her sister Mary and asked them what they were doing in the parking lot. They said she seemed focused on their race.

“Is your boyfriend here, is your baby daddy here?” Westwood said. ”Nobody cares! I’m white, and I’m hot.”

The sisters were waiting in the parking lot because Leisa Garris had walked her sister out to her car, which wouldn’t start, Mary Garris said.

Leisa Garris looked through her own car for jumper cables and couldn’t find them, but she started cleaning out her car during the search, Mary Garris said. Eventually, they called AAA.

While they were waiting, a woman pulled up in a car and beamed her headlights toward the sisters, Mary Garris said. They thought maybe she was an Uber driver or was looking for a parking space.

“And then Ms. Westwood, she (revved) her engine up and she proceeded to hit the sidewalk,” Mary Garris said. “And so then my sister had to jump back, and I asked my sister, ‘Wow, did she just try and hit you?’ And my sister said ‘I hope not, I think she may be drunk.’”

Westwood asked what they were doing in the parking lot and indicated they didn’t belong there, Mary Garris said. They told her Leisa Garris lived in the apartment complex.

Because of the erratic way Westwood was acting, they said, Mary Garris started filming her. The sisters repeatedly asked Westwood to leave them alone, and eventually Leisa Garris called 911.

Before the police arrived, Mary Garris said Westwood went into her house and changed into a robe

“Do I need to bring out my concealed weapon, too? This is North Carolina by the way,” Westwood asked, according to videos.

The sisters kept a distance from Westwood until police arrived, and they said Westwood went into her apartment when she saw the police car.

“He was an African-American officer, as well, and that’s when Ms. Westwood came back outside and I think during that time she was making her own 911 call, but we didn’t realize that at the time,” Mary Garris said. “We could just overhear her speaking, saying, ‘There’s a whole congregation of ‘em, they’re all congregating out here, there’s a bunch of ‘em.”

Another police officer eventually arrived, Mary Garris said, and the two officers knocked on Westwood’s door. She didn’t answer.

The sisters felt uncomfortable and unsafe during the whole encounter, they said. Leisa Garris said she doesn’t feel safe at home anymore, and she’s been checking her locks and trying to stay inside at night. Both sisters said they haven’t had any encounter like this before.

“It just took me by surprise. It hurt me really bad,” Leisa Garris said.

Eviction proceedings have begun against Westwood, according to the sisters’ lawyer, Michael Phillips. Westwood was fired from her job at Spectrum, the company announced shortly after the videos went viral.

On Nov. 3, Westwood turned herself in at a police department on the North Carolina coast. She was served with a warrant for misdemeanor misuse of the 911 system and four criminal summons for simple assault and communicating threats, police said.

The sisters said they posted the videos online and hired Phillips because they didn’t feel the incident was being taken seriously at first.

The videos went viral, which Leisa Garris said has been overwhelming. Mary Garris said she hopes the videos will promote change.

“This nation has to change,” she said. “People should never be treated badly because of the color of their skin.”

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Jane Wester: 704-358-5128, @janewester