A disabled Illinois woman has come forward with alarming claims against the Macomb Police Department after claiming officers stripped her without her consent after an arrest, tased several times before and after being transported to jail and handled with her with excessive force.
Ariel Harrison, who is blind in her left eye, told VICE News that she was arrested on October 26, 2019, without being told why she was being pulled over and taken into custody. Harrison said that after she dropped her children off at a neighborhood YMCA, she was driving and offered a ride to a stranger stranded in the rain. During the stop she saw police behind her and pulled over thinking they wanted to pass her. Unbeknownst to Harrison, the police were pulling her over due to receiving a call about a reckless driver. After she was pulled over, she opened her door because her driver’s side window doesn’t roll down and she was having a hard time telling them that. When she opened the door, she said that things became aggressive and officers began yelling orders at her.
“Ariel’s being given multiple, simultaneous, and even contradictory instructions as a disabled driver who is blind in her left eye,” Democratic Women of McDonough County founder Heather McMeekan told VICE News. “She’s being told, ‘Put it in park, open the door, unbuckle your seatbelt, give me your driver’s license, give me your vehicle registration.’ They literally give her just a few seconds.”
According to police reports obtained by VICE, police believed that Harrison was intoxicated after they smelled alcohol in Harrison’s vehicle, saw that her eyes were red and her speech was slurred. Instead of issuing a breathalyzer or sobriety test, Harrison was arrested on probable cause. It was also stated on the arrest report that the passenger Harrison offered a ride to witnessed her take two shots of Fireball Whiskey. Harrison claimed that she was never told why she was being pulled over.
After arriving to McDonough County Jail, Harrison admitted that she refused to leave the police car because she didn’t understand why she was arrested. She then claimed that a corrections officer then forcibly removed her and slammed her to the ground and that she was tased several times which led to her passing out. Harrison said that once she woke up she was in a jail cell.
There are two videos of that show what happened to Harrison while in a jail cell. In the video that was released first, three corrections officers are seen restraining Harrison while kneeling on her neck and back and holding her legs. She was also tased again and her sweater was removed. In the second video, a male and female officer are entering her jail cell hours later and the female corrections officer is pointing a taser at her. The video doesn’t have audio but the caption stated that Harrison, who only had on a shirt and underwear, was being told to undress. She refused because there was a male corrections officer present and she was in fear of being sexually assaulted. Harrison said she told the female corrections officer that she wasn’t comfortable undressing in front of the male corrections officer and asked for privacy.
“I had told her that it’s not right,” Harrison said. “That he wasn’t supposed to be there while I changed. She told me, ‘Well, he’s here with me.’ Basically, she didn’t really care. I felt like she violated my rights.”
The female corrections officer ignored her request and then forcibly removed her clothes. After watching for a while, the male corrections officer joined in and then another male corrections officer entered and held down Harrison’s legs.
Harrison was later convicted of aggravated battery, driving under the influence, resisting a peace officer and improper lane usage, VICE News noted. She is now facing five to seven years in prison and will be sentenced on August 10. As a result of this incident, Harrison has lost custody of her three children, ages 13, 12 and 6.
“What Ariel was given was brutality and no apparent adaptations or understanding that she was blind in her left eye,” McMeekan added. “Why are they assuming she’s a hardened criminal? Why are they assuming they have to take that heavy-handedness with her? Why the urgency in this interaction with a petite disabled woman?”
The Macomb Police Department is investigating the matter internally.
“The incident was documented by involved personnel. Additionally, the incident was further reviewed by Department Supervisory personnel and documented per Macomb Police Policy and Procedures,” read a statement issued about the incident. “The Macomb Police Department serves our community in a fair and unbiased manner as we report events objectively, impartially, and without bias.”
A GoFundMe has been started to help Harrison pay her $1,100 in legal fees. The Democratic Women of McDonough County has also started a petition on Harrison’s behalf to fight to have all of the charges against her dropped.