Police in Bakersfield, Calif. arrested a black teenager after she was mistaken by officers for a 30-year-old black man they were looking for, according to police reports and the teen’s account.
In a video posted to Facebook, Tatyana Hargrove says an officer punched and then pinned her down as a police dog bit her leg just moments after she insisted on seeing a warrant for the search of her backpack on June 18.
″I told him, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’ and I started yelling out, ‘Somebody help me, somebody help me, they’re going to kill me,’” Hargrove, 19, said in the video, in which she appears on crutches. “And then finally, he let me up, he tied my hands behind my back … and he threw me in the back of the car.”
This arrest — on charges of resisting or delaying an officer and aggravated assault on an officer — has drawn wide attention since the Bakersfield NAACP uploaded the video of Hargrove this week.
The police department has issued an internal investigation into the incident, a spokesperson confirmed to NBC.
Officers had been looking for a suspect who threatened shoppers with a machete at a nearby convenience store, according to police reports, which described him as a 25- to 30-year-old bald black man weighing 170 pounds and standing at 5 feet 10 inches with a goatee.
“She appeared to be a male and matched the description of the suspect that had brandished the machete and was also within the same complex the suspect had fled to,” Officer Christopher Moore wrote in an arrest report.
In the video, Hargrove said she was biking home when she stopped on the sidewalk for a drink of water. As she turned around, she saw three police cars had pulled up to the curb, with one officer already having drawn his gun and demanding to see her backpack.
But when Hargrove, who police said is 5-foot-2 and weighs 120 pounds, asked the officers why she was being questioned and if they had a warrant, one of them pointed toward the dog behind him.
“I then got scared and then I was like, here, take the backpack, just take the backpack,” she said.
That’s when the officer grabbed her by the wrist, punched her in the mouth, and pinned her to the ground as the K-9 attacked, Hargrove said.
In his report, Moore said it seemed like Hargrove was about to flee on her bike when they first approached her. As another officer, named in the report only as “G. Vazquez,” drew his firearm and grabbed her hands, she spun into him and made him fall onto his back. Then, after Vazquez punched her, Hargrove “quickly maneuvered her body to get back on top of him,” Moore wrote.
Given that she “matched the description of the suspect that had brandished a machete” and “had decided to assault Senior Officer Vasquez instead of just trying to run or escape on her bicycle,” Moore decided to release the dog, he said in the report.
Hargrove, who was taken to a nearby hospital for abrasions on her face and scrapes and punctures from the bite, mentioned nothing about fighting back in the video.
“I read the paper, my paperwork, though, and it said that I shoved an officer and flipped him on his back,” Hargrove said in the video. “There were dogs and guns drawn on me. Like, I would never do anything like that.”
The Bakersfield NAACP organized a petition and a “Justice for Tatyana” rally Thursday demanding the charges filed against Hargrove by the district attorney’s office be dropped.
“Officers went from brutalizing her to try and make her a criminal, even with her being the victim,” said Patrick Jackson, president of the Bakersfield NAACP. “These are the types of tactics that officers use to protect themselves when they’ve had wrongdoing.”
Police spokesperson Sgt. Ryan Kroeker declined to comment on the case but said that the investigation into Hargrove’s arrest was initiated without a formal complaint from her or family.
“The chief of police believes in being open and transparent with our community,” Kroeker told NBC. “Our goal is to strengthen and build relationships between the police department and community.”
Still, Jackson said the NAACP was calling on the police department to start using body cameras and the city to create a community oversight council.
California is investigating a possible "pattern and practice of excessive force" in the department, Kroeker confirmed. In 2015, police in Kern County, Calif., where Bakersfield is located, killed more people per capita than anywhere else in the country, according to The Guardian.
“We have to have police officers that are representing our community and not trying to be terrorists in our community,” Jackson said. “How many more Tatyanas have to happen before we deem that this is something that we should invest in for our children and for our community?”