As police in Fort Worth, Texas, ransacked Nelda Price’s home, an officer instructed her to put her hands together, as if she were praying, so that he could hold her with zip ties.
“I said, ‘I’m praying. Because I don’t understand why you’re here, and I don’t know what this is about, ‘”Nelda told The Guardian.
On March 11, she and her husband John, both black and in their 60s, were chatting in the dining room, dressed for bed, when a noise interrupted them. Nelda’s first instinct was to get up and investigate, but after John thought he heard gunshots, he pushed her to the ground.
By the time they looked up, the Fort Worth police had already broken through the iron gate and were storming the front door, guns in hand. Without any explanation, the officers demanded that John and Nelda raise their hands and then took them outside for questioning.
In a traumatic spectacle that lasted for hours, about 20 to 30 police officers noisily vandalized the Prices’ belongings as emergency vehicles flooded the block. The elderly couple waited outside in their pajamas and nightgowns; after asking several times, Nelda was finally allowed to grab a sweater.
“It was like a nightmare,” he said. “You don’t expect something like that to happen.”
No one responded to any of the Prices’ questions about what was happening, even when several officers pointed to red flags that their colleagues had targeted the wrong people. Police rejected Nelda’s pleas for John’s medication, until her blood pressure rose so high that an ambulance was called.
Once Nelda and John were allowed back inside, they discovered a search warrant on the dining room table, allegedly connecting them to methamphetamine and drug trafficking.
“We just don’t know why the Fort Worth Police Department did things so terribly wrong. We just know that they did, ”said Kay Van Wey, a personal injury trial attorney representing Nelda in her lawsuit against the city.
Fort Worth Police have refused to provide Van Wey with the underlying basis for a no-hit search warrant against the Prices and told The Guardian they could not comment on pending or current litigation.
Illegal detention, excessive force, and violations of the Prices’ constitutional rights were factors in the devastating incident last March, the suit alleges, representing another example in a litany of high-profile tragedies that have underscored the history of the department of racial discrimination and prejudice. surveillance.
The department has faced widespread condemnation for years for police brutality against minority communities.
“We certainly hold that this was not the product of one individual’s behavior, but rather the product of systemic, structural and institutional racism,” Van Wey said.
Almost a decade ago, Fort Worth Officer Jon Romer shot and killed a disabled father Charal “Ra Ra” Thomas as Thomas’s children watched. Romer was just fired in 2019 after being convicted of aggravated perjury in connection with a separate beating of a young black man.
In 2015, Officer Courtney Johnson, who then resigned, accidentally triggered and injured Craigory Adams, a man with mental health problems who carefully dropped to one knee when Johnson approached him. The following year, when Jacqueline Craig called the Fort Worth police for help because a neighbor had strangled her young son, Officer William Martin violently arrested her and her teenage daughters instead.
After Dorshay Morris reported a domestic disturbance involving her boyfriend in 2017, the police threw her to the ground with a gun and handcuffed her with shackles. Then last year, Atatiana Jefferson became the sixth person killed by Fort Worth officers in a matter of months when Aaron Dean shot him through a window while caring for her eight-year-old nephew.
Community members believe that Fort Worth “is doing little or nothing to improve race relations, racial equity and cultural awareness,” the city council working group on race and culture wrote in a 2018 report. African-Americans accounted for 41% of all arrests in 2016 and 2017, despite accounting for only 19% of the city’s population, the task force found.
More recently, an expert review panel He expressed concern that the Fort Worth police “do not consistently adhere to policies to avoid force during encounters with community members,” and that the department is also not enforcing those safeguards.
“They’re operating like this is the Wild West, and there are no rules,” said Pamela Young, a community organizer for grassroots organization United Fort Worth. “There is no consistent responsibility.”
As the police rummaged through the Price home, they were surrounded by antiques John had collected and other indicators that they were inside the modest home of two older people. They still dumped shoes and suits like trash, and devastated the new kitchen cabinets that Nelda and John had saved for years to pay for.
“I actually felt violated,” Nelda said.
After the incident, she was too nervous and upset to work for days, while John was quiet and stopped acting like himself. He told her he was fine, but after half a century of marriage, she knew better. John died in May of unknown causes.
“He was my protector,” Nelda said. “He took care of us.”
She still has no idea why her home was attacked and, now alone, is triggered by something seemingly harmless like a police van that circles her block.
“What we are really asking is that the city take a good look at what happened here and be willing to start a dialogue with Nelda, listen to her story and use this incident as an example of training.” Van Wey said. “A way to find out where your systems went wrong and fix them.”
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