(Gray News) - Her visit to an Alabama diner last year landed her in jail, but now Chikesia Clemons is the plaintiff and Waffle House the defendant.
Clemons filed a lawsuit Wednesday that alleges Waffle House violated her civil rights and supported discrimination. She seeks damages and for the restaurant chain to adopt and enforce policies that end racial discrimination in its restaurants.
The law office of Benjamin Crump, which represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown in other high-profile cases, is representing Clemons.
“The only reason Ms. Clemons was subjected to this assault [by police] was because Waffle House employees falsely reported her and her friends as being drunk,” the lawsuit reads, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The employees called the police based on racial animus not out of fear for their safety or that of their customers.”
On April 22, 2018, Clemons and a friend stopped at a Waffle House in Saraland, Ala. Employees claimed she was intoxicated and they asked her to leave because they thought she brought alcohol inside with her.
Police told WALA they responded after employees claimed Clemons threatened them because she was being charged for utensils. Her friend recorded officers wrestling Clemons to the ground, exposing her breasts during the ordeal.
In the lawsuit, Clemons alleges her arrest left her with a considerable amount of back pain and emotional distress, and that she lost her job.
“The video evidence is undisputable [sic] when you look at how they assaulted, battered, body-slammed and choked this black woman, this unarmed black woman, and how they disrobed her," Crump stressed. "The mental anguish of that video being seen over and over again. The fact that her family had to see that video, affected her life in every way.”
As video of the arrest spread, so did outrage. Clemons’ supporters staged protests outside the location of her arrest and at the corporate headquarters in Atlanta.
The video eventually caught the eye of Bernice King, the daughter of the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“What happened to #ChikesiaClemons at the hands of police & @WaffleHouse was beyond inhumane. The undignified way she was engaged is inexcusable. Her breasts were exposed, her personhood disregarded. @WaffleHouse: Your response should have reflected remorse for these violations,” King tweeted. “And @MobileALPolice #SaralandPolice: We await a dignified, humane response to the undignified, inhumane way that your officers treated #ChikesiaClemons.”
Meanwhile, the charges against Clemons proceeded. In August, an Alabama jury found her not guilty of disorderly conduct, but she was convicted of resisting arrest.
Even so, WKRG reported that Mobile County Judge Mandy Hambright suspended Clemons’ six-month prison sentence.
On Wednesday, a Waffle House spokesman released the following statement:
“As we’ve said previously, we regret this incident happened at all. As anyone who has dined with us knows, we have a very diverse customer base and workforce. We have had a culture of inclusion since we opened our doors in 1955, and are very proud of the fact that our restaurants have been open to all.”