A federal lawsuit filed by former Miss Black Texas Carmen Ponder against former Commerce Police Chief Kerry Crews, alleging unlawful detention in her 2017 arrest, has been dismissed.
Ponder filed the suit in May 2019 against Crews and the City of Commerce. In response, Crews filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming qualified immunity in the case.
In a ruling Wednesday, Senior United States District Judge with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas Dallas Division Sam R. Cummings agreed.
In the ruling, Cummings said that to support a claim of qualified immunity, Crews would have to demonstrate that he was a governmental official whose position involves the exercise of discretion.
“Having reviewed Plaintff’s conduct shown in the videos, along with Crews’ verbal instructions captured on the cell phone video, the Court is satisfied that Crews reasonably believed that he had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for the offense of evading detention,” Cummings said.
It was unknown as of Wednesday evening whether Ponder’s lawsuit against the City of Commerce itself was still pending.
Ponder’s suit alleged 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 alleged that the city “failed to properly train, supervise, screen, discipline, transfer, counsel or otherwise control officers.”
In the filing, Ponder was 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.
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 had written in her Twitter account 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.
The federal court’s ruling states that the video shows Crews began approaching Ponder and informed her he was a police officer.
“She immediately turns completely around and briskly returns to the store she had just exited,” the ruling said, noting Crews had probable cause to arrest Ponder for evading “In this case the video evidence clearly shows Ponder refusing to comply when Crews … instructed Ponder that she was being detained to question her about the incident reported by Beane.”
Ponder spent the night in the Hunt County Detention Center.
The incident drew national media ttention. Crews was placed on administrative leave until an investigation cleared him of racial-bias allegations, stating it 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 the Commerce Police Department for more than 25 years at the time, resigned on June 26, 2019.
The following day, Beane resigned from the Ccommerce ISD 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.
Crews is currently the Justice of the Peace for Precinct 2 in Hunt County, having won election over independent candidate Carol Davis last November.