COVINGTON — The Covington City Council reviewed video footage of a controversial arrest and heard from Police Chief Stacey Cotton at a called work session Tuesday night. Cotton also met with those who have been critical of the arrest procedure, including Gerald Rose, founder of New Order Civil Human Rights Organization in Marietta, Archie Shepard with National Action Network and Gene Wills, member of East Metro for Social Justice, among others.
Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton presented the video footage from Breonna Bell’s arrest to the Covington City Council at its work session. He also explained the police policies and procedures that were followed in the arrest.
“After I heard word of it on Saturday, I wanted to keep everyone locally in the loop,” Cotton said of the arrest of Breonna Bell on probation violation charges.
The 10-minute video showed the events surrounding Bell’s arrest after she called an officer for assistance in unlocking a car in the Nelson Heights neighborhood on May 9.
The video begins with the officer asking Bell for her date of birth in order to verify that she was the owner of the car.
“It is policy that when someone asks for assistance getting into a locked vehicle to verify they are the rightful owner, otherwise we could be opening the door for a possible ex-boyfriend, girlfriend who wants something that isn’t theirs,” Cotton said.
After verifying her birthday, the officer then confirmed that Bell’s two children were present and the woman accompanying her was her aunt.
In the video the officer continues addressing Bell calmly, “Here’s the deal... you have warrants.”
Cotton explained that when officers are informed that someone has warrants, they don’t know what the warrants are for.
In the video, Bell says “Uh-uh, I can’t do that,” and starts to make her way back to the passenger side of the vehicle.
Bell’s voice begins to break asking the officer to “please don’t do this.”
He tries to reason with her, suggesting that Bell let her aunt, later to be identified as just a friend, take her kids.
Because Bell continued to leave, the officer gripped her arm as she got back into the passenger seat of the car.
Bell is never addressed as anything other than “ma’am.”
While she is trying to get free from the officer’s grip, Bell’s 8-month-old son falls a short distance to the pavement.
Bell picks him up, sits him on the console of the car and attempts to shut the car door.
Bell’s friend tells her to exit the car and she responds, “No, I can’t go to jail, I got a warrant.”
As the pulling and pushing starts, the officer can be heard calling for back up.
After Bell moves from her seated position, for the next two and a half minutes, the officer’s body cam falls off and it is apparent that Bell has a wardrobe malfunction.
With children crying and Bell screaming, the officer told Bell “he didn’t want to do this” and asked Bell to give him her hands 25 times.
As backup arrives, Bell’s friend is able to pull Bell’s pants back up and she is placed in the back of a squad car.
After confirming that Bell requested medical attention because her knee and head hurt, another officer started to converse with her.
“You know you have warrants on you right?”
“Where is it from, Covington?” she asks.
“Different places, one from Covington and Gwinnett,” the office says.
“But I thought I was off of that,” she responds.
“Well the main thing is when an officer tells you that you’re under arrest you don’t need to fight it,” the officer says.
“I wasn’t fighting, I was trying to tell him let me call my momma,” she said.
“You do what we tell you to do, understand?
“Well y’all ain’t suppose to throw me on the ground,” Bell responds.
Bell was then taken to Lifepointe Church to receive medical attention.
“What we do isn’t always pretty,” Cotton said. “I have been asked, well why did you have to arrest her right then, or do you really think she was going to hurt somebody? Everybody has a reason why they can’t go to jail today ... If we pick and choose who goes to jail, that’s when we really get inequality, because what I consider to be a dire strait, the next person might not. And no, we didn’t assume she would cause harm, but just remember, Officer Matt Cooper was shot over a 99-cent bandana.”
Cotton said that he and his team will use this as a learning experience and that if anyone in the community wishes to speak to him, his door is always open.
Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams agreed, saying that “there are people in this community that are heavily affected by the gap between the police and minorities and there needs to be initiative to fix it.”
“I am not proud that this happened, but it is perfectly OK that people are upset about this, we need to have this dialogue,” Cotton said.