A Black federal worker who prosecutors say was pulled over "without proper legal basis” and arrested this spring in Virginia told News4 her arrest was just the beginning of an experience in which she feared for her life.
Juanisha Brooks, a U.S. Department of Defense employee, was taken to jail and then released overnight without her cellphone, wallet or purse, she told News4, speaking on camera for the first time. The items were all in her car, which was impounded 30 minutes from the jail.
"I went to Virginia Tech, I got my degree, I'm working for the Department of Defense with top-secret clearance, but still I'm treated like I'm not a human being,” Brooks said.
Brooks was stopped by a state trooper early March 6 because her tail lights were out. As of March 1, police in Virginia cannot stop drivers for dark tail lights. The Office of the Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney later said the trooper had no reason to stop Brooks.
Brooks said she had just had a late dinner with her sister when she was pulled over. In an incident caught on police dashboard camera obtained by News4, Brooks pleads with Trooper Robert Hinderlang not to pull her out of her car.
“Please stop! Please stop! What are you doing? What did I do?" she cries.
She said she didn’t understand why the incident escalated so quickly.
"If I was a white woman, I truly believe that he would've just told me, ‘Hey, did you know that your tail light was out?’” she said.
The trooper arrested her on suspicion of drunk driving and said she did not immediately stop when he tried to pull her over.
Brooks was taken to jail, where a test showed she had zero alcohol in her system.
She was charged with three misdemeanors: eluding, obstruction of justice and reckless driving, including failing to have her head lights on.
She was told she could go, and asked how to get to her car. The trooper told her a woman in the lobby was there to get her.
“I think that’s your mother,” Brooks recalls him saying.
She said her mother died three years ago.
“And then he looked at me and said, ‘Oh, OK.’ And then he shut the door in my face,” Brooks said.
She went to the magistrate’s office and an employee gave her $20 and let Brooks use her phone. She texted her sister.
“If anything happens to me, this is my last location,” she wrote.
“I truly, in that moment, I really thought I wasn’t gonna make it,” Brooks said, beginning to cry.
She made it to the Vienna Metro station with a stranger’s $20 bill in her hand. But she realized it was only 6 a.m. and the station wouldn’t open for another hour. It was 20 degrees outside and she was wearing a light jacket, stranded and alone.
Brooks made multiple Metro train connections, rode three buses and then took a cab. She had just the right amount of money to pay the driver.
"I really had a guardian angel watching over me, which I believe was my mother,” she said.
Virginia State Police stood by the trooper's reason for pulling Brooks over but the Fairfax County prosecutor disagreed, calling it sickening. Prosecutors dropped all charges against her.
Virginia State Police opened an internal investigation into the traffic stop, and Brooks said she is considering legal action.
She said she had some of her faith in humanity restored by the stranger who helped her when she was left alone.