‘I told him I can’t breathe’
On the day Tatyana Hargrove rode her bike to try to buy her dad a Father’s Day gift, temperatures in Bakersfield, Calif., had reached triple digits, so she stopped on the way home to take a drink of water in the shade.
The 19-year-old girl turned around at the intersection where she had paused and noticed three police cars. One of the officers, she said, had already drawn his gun.
What followed, according to both Hargrove and police, was a case of mistaken identity and an altercation in which police punched Hargrove in the mouth, unleashed a police K-9 dog on her and arrested her. Though the incident took place June 18, it gained wider attention this week after the Bakersfield chapter of the NAACP shared a video of Hargrove’s account on its Facebook page that garnered millions of views.
On the day police stopped Hargrove, officers had been looking for a suspect — described as a 25- to 30-year-old, bald black man standing 5-foot-10 and weighing about 170 pounds — who had threatened several people with a machete at a nearby grocery store, according to a police report.
“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,” Christopher Moore, the arresting officer, wrote in his report.
But Hargrove is none of those things.
For starters, she is female. She stands 5-foot-2 and weighs 115 pounds “soaking wet,” according to her father in a widely shared video of Hargrove’s account of the incident posted on the Facebook page for the Bakersfield chapter of the NAACP.
In the video, Hargrove stands with a pair of crutches near the intersection where she was stopped by police and described how one of the officers demanded she give him her backpack, she said.
When she asked if they had a warrant, one of the officers gestured toward a police K-9 behind him, she said.
“I then got scared and then I was like, here, take the backpack, just take the backpack,” Hargrove added.
After that, she said in the video, the officer grabbed her by her wrist, then punched her and threw her onto the ground; shortly afterward, the police K-9 “came and started eating at my leg.”
The same officer then put his knee on her back and other knee against her head, despite her protests, she said.
“I told him ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’ and then I started yelling out, ‘Somebody help me, somebody help me! They’re gonna kill me!’” she said. “And then finally, he let me up, he tied my hands behind my back and then he tied my feet together and he threw me in the back of the car.”
According to the police report, Hargrove was arrested for resisting or delaying an officer and aggravated assault on an officer. Hargrove was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment of her injuries, including abrasions on her face and scrapes and punctures from the police K-9’s “engagement on her right thigh,” Moore, the arresting officer, wrote in his report.
Moore noted that “several nurses” at the hospital referred to Hargrove as a male and that “when I corrected them and advised she was a female they were surprised and apologized for the mistake.”
After she was treated for her injuries, Hargrove was booked into jail, the report said. She was detained for nearly 16 hours there before being bailed out by her parents, according to the NAACP.
In the police report, Moore wrote that Hargrove had “spun into” one of the officers with her left shoulder, causing him to fall backward, and then “quickly maneuvered her body to get back on top of him” after the officer punched her.
“At this time I was forced to quickly consider the following; [Hargrove] matched the description of the suspect that had brandished a machete, her backpack was within her arm’s reach and the main compartment was unzipped allowing her immediate access to the machete,” Moore wrote. After weighing whether he could use his Taser or baton on Hargrove, Moore wrote that he decided to unleash the police K-9, Hamer.
In the police report, Moore wrote that after officers placed Hargrove in a police car, she continued to scream out of the window at them for about five minutes.
“While Hargrove was in the backseat I asked what her name was and when she provided it as ‘Tatyana’ I said, ‘Don’t lie to me, that’s a girl’s name. What is your name?’ ” the police report stated. “Hargrove said, ‘I’m a girl, I just don’t dress like one.’ This was when I first discovered she was a female.”
A search of her backpack revealed no weapons, the report stated.
A Bakersfield police spokesman told The Washington Post he would not comment further on the case but confirmed that the department had determined that the officers had exercised appropriate use of force on Hargrove.
In the video on the Bakersfield NAACP’s Facebook page, Hargrove does not say anything about fighting back at the officers.
“I read the paper, my paperwork, though, and it said that I shoved an officer and flipped him on his back,” she said in the video, adding a look of disbelief. “There were dogs and guns drawn on me. Like, I would never do anything like that.”
A call to the Bakersfield chapter of the NAACP was not immediately returned early Wednesday afternoon. The group is organizing a “Justice for Tatyana” rally Thursday, started a Change.org petition to have Hargrove’s charges dismissed and launched a crowdfunding page to raise money for her medical bills and legal fees.
Hargrove’s parents, who were interviewed for the video but not named, said it was extremely difficult for them to believe what happened to their daughter could be justified.
“Every day I have to change her bandages and I see her, the injuries that she has. It’s really hard for me,” Hargrove’s mother said in the video, fighting back tears.
“Why should my daughter be charged with a crime? All she did was stop to drink some water because it was 100-something degrees. That’s ridiculous,” Hargrove’s father said in the video. “She was coming home to celebrate Father’s Day with me. It’s not right. It’s not right.”