Former Miss Black Texas Carmen Ponder is suing the city of Commerce and former Commerce Police Chief Kerry Crews over her 2017 arrest, which sparked national media attention.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in the Northern Texas-Dallas district on Sunday.
Commerce City Manager Darrek Ferrell told the Commerce Journal Wednesday that the city could not comment on pending litigation. When reached by phone, Crews told the Commerce Journal that he has no comment and has not yet hired an attorney to represent him in the case.
According to court documents, Ponder’s suit alleges an unlawful arrest in violation of her rights under the Fourth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The Fourth Amendment protects against unlawful searches and seizures, while the Civil Rights Act allows individuals to sue the government when one is deprived of their rights under the U.S. Constitution. It is sometimes invoked when plaintiffs allege the use of excessive force by police.
The lawsuit also alleges that the city “failed to properly train, supervise, screen, discipline, transfer, counsel or otherwise control officers.”
In the filing, Ponder seeks “answers and compensation for damages” from the wrongful arrest. She is seeking at least $150,000 from Crews and $300,000 from the city, the lawsuit states, and she requests a jury trial.
The lawsuit alleges that Crews flashed his badge and “aggressively demanded that she apologize to the man who accosted her earlier using racial slurs.” It also alleges that Crews grabbed Ponder’s arm with enough force to cause bruising.
Ponder, who was named Miss Black Texas in 2016, was arrested by Commerce Police on May 20, 2017, following an incident at Walmart.
In a post to her Twitter account following the incident, Ponder, who at the time was a student at Texas A&M University-Commerce and an intern at the Hunt County District Attorney’s Office, said she was driving to Walmart when a black truck cut in front of her and began driving erratically. After she moved to pass the truck, she wrote, the truck began following her and pulled in next to her in the Walmart parking lot.
Ponder wrote that a man, whom she initially identified as Crews, exited the truck and began yelling that he was teaching his daughter how to drive and that Ponder should not have passed them. Ponder wrote in her post that she tried to ignore the man and enter the store, after which the man stated, “Oh whatever, you black (expletive),” Ponder claimed.
Originally, Crews was thought to be the man in the truck, but it was later revealed to be a then-board member of Commerce Independent School District, Michael Beane.
Crews was off duty that day but was shopping at Walmart at the time of the incident, and he came outside shortly after the altercation.
When Ponder later exited the store, Crews and Beane approached her and a second altercation ensued. During the back and forth, video from the incident shows Crews raising his voice and becoming more emotionally heated as the two argued, before a uniformed CPD officer arrived on the scene.
Crews was seen on video directing the officer to handcuff Ponder, who was put in the back of the police vehicle. Ponder was later charged with evading arrest and spent the night in the Hunt County Detention Center.
Following Ponder’s release and her telling of events, attention from multiple state and national media outlets descended onto Commerce. Crews was placed on administrative leave on May 25 while an independent investigation was conducted by the Fort Worth-based law firm Lynn, Ross and Gannaway.
On June 12, the investigation cleared Crews of racial-bias allegations against him, stating that the investigation found “no evidence that Chief Crews made any racial statements to Ponder or to anyone else, and that there was no evidence that the arrest was racially motivated.”
The following day, the Hunt County DA’s office dropped charges against Ponder, citing a lack of evidence.
Crews, who had been with CPD for more than 25 years at the time, then resigned on June 26 at a special City Council meeting held at the First Baptist Church with hundreds of concerned community members in attendance.
Crews, who was not present at the meeting, stated in a letter read by Mayor Wyman Williams: “As a result of being off duty, I was unprepared for the response I received from Ms. Ponder, and I became emotional. … It had nothing to do with her race or gender, or anything other than what I felt was her disrespect of my position as an officer and as the police chief.”
Crews also wrote that his “emotional response was not the result of a single event or interaction. The past several years have been difficult for the city of Commerce, and they have worn on me.” Crews stated that he did not feel that he could “continue to bear the weight of the police chief position.”
The following day, Beane resigned from the CISD Board of Trustees, stating to reporters that he confronted Ponder because he believed that she had cut he and his daughter off on the road, almost causing an accident.
Beane said at the time that he did not believe he did anything wrong, but he added that he would have handled the situation differently if given a second chance.
Following Crews’ resignation, Ponder’s attorney Lee Merritt said they were not satisfied with what had transpired, as Crews immediately was back on the city payroll as the new assistant to the city manager – a position created for Crews.
“We are not completely satisfied with allowing the chief to make what we consider to be a lateral career move,” Merritt said at the time. “The chief still made it OK for Beane to treat Ms. Ponder the way he did.”
Merritt also said at the time that they were considering filing a civil rights lawsuit against the city.
Crews is currently the Justice of the Peace for Precinct 2 in Hunt County, having won election over independent candidate Carol Davis last November.