Starbucks is just the latest: Race-driven wrongful arrests destroy lives every day, all over

Charges were dropped the next month, but all you have to do is watch the video to begin to get a glimpse of just how terrifying being subject the men’s abuse of power must have been for Ponder.

The Root also has an excellent rundown of just how obscene the situation was. Kirsten West Savali notes, “Why Crews and the responding police officers would expect Ponder to apologize to Crews after she was followed and verbally attacked by a white man remains unclear.”

The police chief, Kerry Crews (who ordered the arrest) and the man who allegedly harassed Ponder, Michael Beane (who turned out to be a school board trustee), maintained they’d done nothing wrong. Yet Crews was put on leave, and both Crews and Beane ended up resigning. 

Crews claimed, “As a result of being off-duty I was unprepared for the response I received from Ms. Ponder, and I became emotional.” Race had nothing to do with it, he insisted.

Beane, meanwhile, didn’t just claim race had nothing to do with his actions: He accused Ponder of racializing the incident, and insinuating Ponder was responsible for threats against his family, for the school board “being held hostage,” and for his resignation.

“I’d like to make clear that at no point in this whole scenario did anyone but Miss Ponder make any racial claims. I did not call her anything racial at any point in time,” Beane said on Tuesday morning. “I did say a couple curse words at her, but nothing racial at all.”

The city promptly hired a lawyer to investigate. As is often the case when a city’s in charge of investigating itself, the report cleared Commerce, declaring there was no racially motivated wrongdoing.

Well before the wrongful arrests at the Philadelphia Starbucks, two Pennsylvania state troopers allegedly wrongfully arrested Wilfredo Ramos, a Latino man, on the basis of his race and New York plates. Despite negative Breathalyzer and blood tests, and a negative field sobriety test, Ramos was imprisoned for nearly six months.

[Wilfredo] Ramos claims his ordeal is the fault of Troopers Justin M. Summa and Kevin Vanfleet of the Fogelsville barracks, who Ramos alleges conspired to falsely arrest him after their illegal search of his car came up empty for the drugs and guns they told him a Hispanic man from New York must be carrying.

According to Ramos, the troopers’ alleged persecution was deliberate and ongoing.

After Ramos gave a blood sample at the Lehigh County DUI center, he was held even though it was his first offense and he had not been involved in a crash. The suit states that it is customary to release a DUI suspect pending the results of blood tests.

Ramos was charged with driving under the influence of a controlled substance. District Judge David M. Howells Jr. placed Ramos under $10,000 bail at the troopers’ request, according to court documents.

The suit alleges that when the blood tests turned out negative for drugs and alcohol, Summa requested the blood samples be retested.

Although both tests were negative for all drugs, Summa allegedly appeared at a preliminary hearing for Ramos on July 18, 2014, when he testified that the results were pending, causing the charges to be sent to Lehigh County Court, according to the suit.

The consequences for Ramos were devastating. And even after Ramos was released, the charges remained on his record.

While Ramos was awaiting trial in Lehigh County Jail, he lost his job, his home, his belongings and his car, leaving him homeless and destitute, the federal lawsuit against two troopers and the Pennsylvania State Police says.

The Pennsylvania State Police settled with Ramos, though they refused to admit fault.

Pennsylvania State Police have settled false arrest and imprisonment claims by a New York man who was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs and jailed for five months before he was acquitted of the charges because troopers had no evidence.

Wilfredo Ramos of Brooklyn, N.Y., will receive $150,000 from Pennsylvania State Police in a taxpayer-funded settlement, according to his attorney, Joshua Karoly, who provided a copy of the Nov. 3 settlement agreement. Under the settlement agreement, the state police do not admit fault or liability.

Karoly said the settlement compensates Ramos for the loss of his job, apartment and car while he was in Lehigh County Jail. Ramos was held under $10,000 bail from June 6, 2014, until Nov. 12, 2014, when Lehigh County Judge James T. Anthony found Ramos not guilty after blood tests showed no illegal substances or alcohol in his system, according to court documents.

Ramos’ experience was the perfect storm: Racial bias resulting in arrest followed by a loss of liberty resulting from a discriminatory, insurmountable standard as part of the cash-bail system.

The outrage in Philadelphia over the Starbucks arrests is well-deserved, and this kind of wide-scale pushback is needed in many, many more places. From racial profiling comes wrongful arrest emerges unlawful detention and, all too often, wrongful conviction. Each step does harm; the ultimate harm can be, as it was for Ramos, devastating.

The difficulty of accessing legal help, particularly for those who are stuck in jail as a result of an inability to pay bond, precludes most people subjected to these practices from pursuing relief—in itself a dicey prospect because the same racial biases that may have inspired the case will be in effect as they attempt to litigate their claim. 

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