It’s pretty safe to assume any story that begins with, “I was having dinner in Waco with Ted Nugent,” is bound to be interesting.
Angela West, wife of Texas gubernatorial candidate Allen West, was arrested Friday evening on her way home from dinner with friends at P.F. Changs while her husband was meeting with Nugent in Waco. Her baby grandson was in the backseat.
Although she was initially pulled over by the Dallas Police Department for the minor traffic infraction of failing to use her turn signal while changing lanes, West was arrested and taken to jail because the officer, L. Harrris #11972, “had reasons to believe the driver may be intoxicated.” West vehemently denies she was drinking that night.
While we should be careful to avoid making ourselves the judge and jury before all the facts are even out, I think we should give Angela, who has otherwise been an upstanding and law abiding citizen, the benefit of the doubt. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Everyone has the right to due process. From the information that has been made public so far, it certainly would seem like she, like many Americans, has had an unjust and unfortunate experience with the criminal justice system.
As is often the case, it seems like the turn signal violation was just a pretext. After providing ID and answering a few questions, what at first appeared to be a routine traffic stop morphed into a life-changing event.
All the witnesses who were at dinner with Angela West that night assert that she only drank lemonade and water- no alcohol. Allen West has also produced the receipt from his wife’s dinner, which indeed lists lemonade as her only drink. West took multiple breathalyzer tests on the scene which failed to show she was intoxicated.
“She gave me a sobriety test – you know the walk; the staring at a light; then holding one leg up etc,” Angela West wrote in a Facebook post. “I explained that I would be a little off balance in some of the exercises because this was the after effect of the aneurysm that I had repaired about two years ago.”
“She asked about drinking and street drugs, I told her I did neither. I took a breathalyzer and she told me I was doing it wrong. I tried again and again. Then she had me walk again and then she told me I was going to jail.”
At this point West really started to worry and realized it was time to call a lawyer. She said she asked to use the phone to call an attorney but the officer refused. The police then told West to take a blood test, which West declined unless she was allowed to speak to a lawyer first. “You are really going to jail now,” the officer said.
West was arrested, and her grandson was left in the backseat of the car with two police officers until her daughter could be contacted to pick the baby up.
According to West, and shocking and terrifying ordeal followed:
“So, not knowing my rights nor the sequence of events to occur, I went along and at this moment I will avoid the gory details, but I am both injured and getting medical care. Officer Harris with the Dallas Police Department became ‘Aunt Lydia’ for those fans of The Handmaid’s Tale. She became my personal tormentor. She ‘showed me the ropes’. My hands are swollen and bruised as are my shoulders and arms. I have been locked and restrained in the squad car in the sweltering heat …. After which I asked her how could a middle aged grandmother who is not inebriated harm you? She got out of the car, shut the door and leaned her backside against the window. She called another cop to ‘watch’ me while she went to get a warrant to draw blood. He watched me pleading to roll down the window or at least loosen the restraints because my shoulder joints were being stretched to the maximum. He kept eating his popcorn and making faces at me. At some point I was instructed to get out of the car and go into this building. We did a lot of driving. I was asked about my ‘Covid status’ to which I said that my eldest daughter and son in law were ill at home with it. I was instructed to lie about this status unless I wanted her to throw me into a room of really sick people and then I would get it too.”
The whole story definitely bizarre and raises a lot of questions: What caused the police to be so insistent that West was intoxicated? Why wasn’t she allowed to speak to an attorney? Why was a grandma deemed to be such a threat that she had to be restrained with such excessive force? The whole conversation regarding lying about her Covid status strikes me as very weird.
West was released from jail the following day. While in jail, West met another woman who recounted an experience of a minor traffic stop leading to an arrest on dubious charges that was almost identical.
The fact is, many thousands of Americans could probably tell a similar story of abuses within law enforcement and the criminal justice system. If the charges are indeed false, the Wests have the money and influence to have them dismissed. However, many people, disproportionately Black and Hispanic, do not have the means to fight back against unjust treatment by the criminal justice system.
The majority of people in law enforcement, certainly the ones I know, are good public servants who follow the law and serve their communities with honor and integrity. However, as with any institution, there are also bad people who abuse their power. The law currently gives those bad cops substantial loopholes and immunity, and fails to offer sufficient recourse to those treated unjustly.
If there is even an element of truth to the Wests’ story, the criminal justice system of this state has failed them. Regardless though, there are proven instances of people suffering far worse at the hands of badge-heavy law enforcement officers in this country.
If there is anything good that could come from Angela West’s ordeal, hopefully this whole incident will cause Allen West to take a second look at many of the bipartisan criminal justice reforms proposed in the Texas Legislature which have been stifled due to the influence police unions have on many GOP politicians.
“I support the thin blue line, but this is insidious,” Allen West said. “They put my grandson at risk, at jeopardy, left him with a couple of police officers and carted his grandmother to jail and she had water and lemonade.”