RALEIGH, N.C. – A federal lawsuit filed by a Georgia librarian says white officers used excessive force on the Black woman during a traffic stop in North Carolina, adding they pulled her from her car by her hair and tore her rotator cuff.
The suit filed Wednesday by Stephanie Bottom of Atlanta claims she posed no threat to the officers from the Salisbury Police Department and the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office when she was stopped in May 2019. But officers approached her vehicle with guns drawn and later violated her rights by using excessive force, the lawsuit said.
Bottom, now 68, said she was driving to Raleigh for a funeral in May 2019 when she was pulled over for suspected speeding and failing to heed blue lights, the Charlotte Observer reported.
Bottom said she was listening to music loudly in her car and did not realize she was being pulled over, according to the lawsuit. It alleges alleges that two officers grabbed Bottom by her arm and her hair, later throwing her out of the vehicle and onto the ground.
Once on the ground, officers twisted Bottom's arm behind her back, causing her “shoulder to ‘pop,’ tearing her rotator cuff and causing severe injury,” the lawsuit said.
A Salisbury police officer involved in the stop “bragged about ‘grabbing a handful of dreads,’ and said ‘at that point she earned it,’" the lawsuit said, citing footage from the officer's body camera.
Bottom said all of the arresting officers were white.
When she asked for medical assistance, she estimated that an hour elapsed before officers called for help, the lawsuit stated. Bottom had surgery to repair the tear but the injury prevents her from raising her left arm above her head, according to the suit.
One of the officers named in the lawsuit declined to comment, but said he no longer works for the police department. The other officers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Linda McElroy, a spokesperson for the city of Salisbury, also declined to comment on the pending litigation. McElroy told the newspaper that “the Salisbury Police always strives for positive interactions with our residents and visitors, including in cases where we may suspect criminal activity."
Bottom pleaded guilty to failing to heed blue lights. She also was charged with speeding and resisting arrest but those were dismissed.
“Ms. Bottom was peaceful at all times, and officers knew they were dealing with an elderly woman,” said Ian Mance, a lawyer with EmancipateNC who represents Bottom. “Our complaint alleges these officers had no reason to use any force, much less the level of force they employed. Ms. Bottom wasn’t even arrested.”