July 31, 2021

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Black librarian pulled from car by hair during traffic stop

An elderly black librarian was viciously yanked out of her car by her hair by a white officer and held at gunpoint during a traffic stop in North Carolina, newly released bodycam footage shows.

The video shows Stephanie Bottom, 66, repeatedly pleading with Salisbury police officers and Rowan County sheriff’s deputies to tell her why they stopped her on Interstate 85 as she was traveling to her aunt’s funeral in Raleigh in May 2019.

The clip — which has been released after Bottom filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday — begins with Deputy Mark Benfield approaching Bottom’s car with his gun drawn before grabbing her hair and dragging her to the ground.

Benfield and a second cop, Officer Devin Barkalow, then struggle to put handcuffs on Bottom while she lies face-down on the side of the roadway, according to the footage.

“Why are you doing this to me?” asks Bottom, who is from Atlanta. “I was just driving. What have I done wrong?”

Police body cam footage captures the moment Stephanie Bottom is dragged from her car by her hair and aggressively arrested where she claims she sustained injuries.
Police bodycam footage captures the moment Stephanie Bottom is dragged from her car by her hair and aggressively arrested, when she claims she sustained injuries.
Jam Press

One of the officers tells Bottom that three police cruisers had been behind her for “about 10 miles” trying to get her to pull over for allegedly driving 80 mph in a 70-mph zone and failing to heed officers’ sirens.

Bottom insists to the white officers that she was unaware she was being told to pull over due to loud music in her car.

“It was a simple traffic stop,” an officer tells Bottom. “All we had to do was write you a ticket and you turned it into this.”

An officer then asks Bottom at one point if she had consumed alcohol prior to getting behind the wheel, which she denies, the footage shows.

Police seen dragging  66-year-old librarian Stephanie Bottom to the ground by her hair.
Police drag 66-year-old librarian Stephanie Bottom to the ground by her hair.
Police Handout

“I’m on my way to a funeral, my aunt’s funeral,” she sobs. “I did nothing wrong.”

Bottom then tells the officers she has a shoulder injury and is in pain while handcuffed, leading her to ask that the cuffs be removed.

An officer declined the request, but paramedics later took Bottom to a hospital, the Charlotte Observer reported.

Bottom is suing Benfield, Barkalow and another Salisbury officer, claiming they used excessive force and tore her rotator cuff while pulling her out of the car, the newspaper reported Wednesday.

A video still seen from the police incident.
A video still from the police incident.
Jam Press

The injury reportedly kept the now-68-year-old woman out of work for eight months and left her “shaking in fear,” she said.

“I was getting ready to die,” Bottom told the Charlotte Observer. “When they grabbed me and threw me to the ground, that’s when the real terror struck me that I’m going to die.”

Bottom later pleaded guilty to failing to heed blue lights, while two other charges of speeding and resisting arrest were ultimately dropped, the newspaper reported.

An attorney for Bottom said his client was “peaceful at all times” during the encounter and accused officers of disregarding the fact that they were dealing with an elderly woman.

The officers seen putting handcuffs on Stephanie Bottom who claimed she was on her way to her aunt's funeral at the time.
The officers put handcuffs on Stephanie Bottom, who claimed she was on her way to her aunt’s funeral at the time.
Jam Press

“Our complaint alleges these officers had no reason to use any force, much less the level of force they employed,” attorney Ian Mance told the Observer. “Ms. Bottom wasn’t even arrested.”

Salisbury city officials declined to comment on Bottom’s lawsuit, but told the outlet that its police department “always strives for positive interactions” with residents and visitors, including those suspected of criminal activity.