MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. (CN) - A police officer who made headlines for cutting off an unruly inmate's hair weave wants the department to pay in court for scapegoating her.
Though the Feb. 17 complaint filed in Macomb County Circuit Court does not name the weave-wearing inmate, reports about the late 2013 incident identify her as Charda Gregory.
On the night of Gregory's arrest in Warren, Mich., Bernadette Najor notes she had been with the city's police force for 10 years - a decade she spent mostly in the detention unit where officers process arrestees, take fingerprints and perform searches, among other such tasks.
Gregory "was intoxicated, combative, and belligerent" when two male officers brought her in at around 4 a.m. on Nov. 13, 2013, according to the complaint.
Najor says Gregory had already bent the rear-window frame in the patrol car by kicking it after her arrest, and Gregory kicked Najor as well while resisting the officer's attempts to search her for weapons.
Noting that female prisoners have been known to hide needles or blades in their hair, Najor says Gregory also told the officers repeatedly that she would kill herself in front of them.
Najor says department policy endorses removing a tied-in hair weave, as opposed to a glued weave or hair plugs, which should be left alone.
Consistent with that policy, Najor began the process of carefully cutting off the 6-foot weave attached "loosely" to Gregory's head, according to the complaint.
Najor says the process required the use of a restraint chair because Gregory continued to resist and was physically aggressive. Indeed, Gregory remained in the restraint chair all night and kept in a segregation cell "because she kept flailing around and kicking the restraints," the complaint states.
Though Najor had no concerns that her actions departed from procedure at the time, that attitude changed when the bureau reviewed surveillance footage of the incident as part of the case against Gregory.
Commissioner Jere Green called for an investigation as to whether prisoner mistreatment occurred, and someone leaked the surveillance footage to news reporters, according to the complaint.
Najor says Green viewed the video as "a potential public relations disaster," concerned particularly with the fact that Green is black, and Najor is white.
The brass charged Najor with excessive force and other supposed violations about a week later and Green fired the officer in December, according to the complaint.
Come January, Commissioner Green allegedly went on the news and blasted Najor for doing "wrong."
"To me, this is something I won't tolerate," Green said, as quoted in the complaint.
Najor says Green spoke in the context of an edited version of the black-and-white jail video with no sound, though "keenly aware that such conclusions cannot be drawn relying solely on an audio-free jail video."
The city also produced Green's disciplinary record to the media, according to the complaint, which notes that the January segment included a shot of "paper appearing to be a disciplinary write-up from Najor's personnel file."
Najor says she won reinstatement to the police force with full back pay after filing a union grievance.
A neutral arbitrator found that the city did not terminate Najor for just cause, but the media reported that Warren had been "forced" to take her back, the complaint states.
"To view the video without the benefit of an audio component and without carefully weighing the accounts of officers who were present does not reflect the reality of what occurred," arbitrator Nora Lynch's ruling said, as quoted in news reports. "The officers, who were interviewed separately, gave consistent accounts, agreeing that the prisoner was combative and resistant and their actions to control her did not involve the use of excessive force."
Najor says the incident also led to her ouster from the school for autistic children where she worked.
The Sterling Heights resident wants damages for false-light invasion of privacy.
Also alleging sex discrimination, Najor notes that none of the male officers who restrained the inmate for the weave-cutting were disciplined. Najor says the provision of her personnel file to the media furthermore violated the Michigan Bullard-Plawecki Act.
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