Joy Arnold and the Florissant Police Department agree on one thing: She should never have been arrested on March 29, 2014.
Weeks before then, Arnold was pulled over in the north-county municipality and charged with an infraction for a "defective muffler." She was fined and entered into a payment plan with the city, but found herself short on funds for her February 2014 installment. She was able to pay only a portion at the beginning of the month, and a Florissant court clerk called to tell her she needed to get up to date or risk a warrant being issued for her arrest. Arnold did manage to make the payment before the end of February, and pay for March as well.
It didn't matter. Owing to a clerical error, Arnold's account was never brought up to date and a warrant for her arrest still went out. That's what led to a physical altercation in the Florissant jail that is now the center of a federal civil-rights lawsuit between Arnold and the city's cops.
Arnold claims that not only did the city not bring her record up to date, an unnamed white county clerk told her, "If you people would get up and get an education and a job, this wouldn't happen to you."
She says she complained to the city but that no one ever followed up with her.
Then, on March 29, 2014, Arnold was again driving in Florissant when Officer Kyle Feldman ran her plates, found the erroneous warrant and pulled her over. From the suit:
Defendant Feldman instructed the Plaintiff that, on the sole basis of an apparent debt related to a municipal traffic summons, she was being placed under arrest...Plaintiff told Defendant Feldman that she had on her phone, which was in her possession, a copy of the email sent by the Court Clerk for the City of Florissant which shows she was in compliance and any warrant had been issued in error. Defendant Feldman told her to 'shut the fuck up.'
Feldman brought Arnold to a holding cell at the Florissant Police Department, and -- according to the court filing -- she continued to insist that her mother could clear up the mistake. Her cell phone, which Feldman confiscated, began ringing and Arnold reached across the booking desk to answer it, "attempting to speak to her mother."
Here's a video of what happened, the altercation begins at about 2:25 when Arnold grabs her phone:
From Arnold's suit: "Defendant Feldman then accelerated towards the Plaintiff, slammed her into the concrete wall, and dropped on top of her to the ground where he physically assaulted her until other officers arrived to break the parties apart. During the lengthy assault, in addition to the injuries suffered when she was slammed into the concrete wall, Plaintiff's head was repeatedly slammed onto the hard floor of the booking area." Arnold's attorney, Talmage Newton, says that though the footage of what happened while Feldman and Arnold were on the ground isn't clear, Feldman acted improperly.
"The amount of time is well in excess of what a trained officer would need to subdue a suspect," he says.
The suit alleges that when two other officers entered the booking area, they laughed at Arnold and joked about what to charge her with.
"As a result of the assault, the Plaintiff, who suffers from a seizure disorder, informed Defendant Feldman that she had just suffered from an epileptic seizure triggered by the assault and required medical attention," the suit says. "After this assault the Plaintiff was charged with: (i) resisting arrest; (ii) failure to comply with a police officer; and (iii) assault in the 3rd degree on a law enforcement officer."
After Arnold was released, she filed a complaint against the city police and, as a result, a municipal-court judge dismissed all her charges, expunged her record and reimbursed her for all the fees she was assessed.
Now, she is suing on the grounds that her altercation with Officer Feldman was a violation of her civil rights.
Florissant police chief Timothy Lowery refutes the claim that race had anything to do with Arnold's traffic stop or what happened in the police station.
"Absolutely not, that never played a factor in the situation whatsoever," he says.
Lowery also says he believes that Arnold is "guilty" of the charges she incurred because of the incident with Feldman, though he acknowledges her initial arrest was due to a mistake.
"We feel the officer acted in good faith," he says. "We certainly have acknowledged and did apologize for the clerical error."
Lowery also says he was unable to substantiate the claim that a city clerk told Arnold to "get a job."
Arnold's attorney, on the other hand, argues that everything from the arrest to the way Arnold was treated at the police station was because she is black.
"I think this type of thing has been happening up there for years and years and years," says Newton. "It's the recent release of the Ferguson report, the Mike Brown issues, the justice department investigation, that's finally bringing this to light and people are finally willing to stand up and say, 'That's enough.'"
Read the entire suit here:
Email the author at Jessica.Lussenhop@RiverfrontTimes.com.