Virginia resident Monica Cromartie was simply going about her day on Feb. 12, 2015, when Petersburg Police Officer Brian Lee Billings noticed she was speeding and decided to pull her over to give her a ticket. What followed was a textbook example of a white police officer using excessive force when dealing with a Black private citizen.
Denise Lavoie of the Associated Press reported that after being pulled over by the officer, Cromartie got out of her car in an attempt to speak to the officer and protest the traffic stop. When Billings told her to get back into her car, she also complied.
“After Billings asked [Cromartie] to roll down her car window, she told him to leave her alone as she complained to someone on her cellphone about the traffic stop,” Lavoie reported. “Seconds later, she said, he pulled her out of her car, forced her onto the ground and placed his weight on her back, injuring her forehead, lip, teeth, right eyebrow and both knees before she was handcuffed and put in leg shackles.”
Billings later claimed that he removed Cromartie from her car to arrest her for obstruction of justice. The bulk of the incident was also captured by a body cam unit the officer was wearing.
“In 2017, a jury awarded Cromartie $23,499 in damages for state law claims after finding that Billings assaulted, falsely imprisoned and maliciously prosecuted her on a charge of obstruction of justice,” Lavoie reported. “However, the trial judge granted a defense motion that the jury would not be allowed to decide Cromartie’s claims that Billings violated her Fourth Amendment rights against excessive force and false arrest, and for an illegal search of her car and her purse, finding that the officer was entitled to immunity on those claims.”
Cromartie and her attorneys appealed the verdict, which then progressed to the Supreme Court of Virginia. According to Lavoie, “reversed the trial judge’s ruling [in 2020] and found that the officer was liable on all of the claims in Cromartie’s lawsuit.”
Following that ruling, on Monday, July 12, 2021, a jury in Petersburg Circuit Court also decided in Cromartie’s favor, awarding her $300,000 in punitive and compensatory damages for Billings’ use of excessive force and the false arrest that left her face-down and bloodied on the pavement for what should’ve been a routine traffic stop.
In a statement following the announcement of the jury decision, Andrew Bodoh, one of Cromartie’s attorneys, said, “she was very glad that after carrying this matter for six years of her life that she finally got the verdict on the constitutional claims that she was looking for, something that demonstrates that the conduct of this officer was not acceptable for the city of Petersburg or for the state.”
“Attorney Tom Roberts, who also represented Cromartie in her lawsuit, said she has lingering physical and psychological injuries, including a scar above her eye and a missing tooth,” Lavoie added. “He said the jury heard testimony that after her encounter with Billings, Cromartie did not call the police during two incidents, one involving the threat of domestic assault by her estranged husband and another when a neighbor showed up at her home with a baseball bat after an argument with her grandchildren.”
Roberts said that following these incidents, Cromartie “chose not to call the police because of her experience with Officer Billings that made her demonstrably fearful of interacting with the police in the very situation where police should have been called.”
Petersburg police have not publicly responded to details of the judgment. Billings is no longer a member of the police force, retiring several months after the incident took place. In court testimony, he admitted that he was never disciplined for his actions in the case.