Juanisha Brooks said the authorities did not tell her the reason she was stopped even when she asked repeatedly. The charges against her have since been dropped.
A prosecutor in Virginia has dismissed all the charges against a Black woman who was pulled over, handcuffed and arrested in March during a traffic stop, asserting that the state troopers who stopped her did so “without proper legal basis.”
The woman, Juanisha Brooks, a senior video producer for the Defense Department, said that troopers escalated events after they pulled her over without an explanation early on March 6 as she was driving to her home in Alexandria, Va., after having dinner with her sister.
Two troopers stopped Ms. Brooks, 34, around 2:21 a.m. after following her car past roughly two or three exits on the Capitol Beltway. According to a police report, her taillights were not turned on, she had twice followed “too close” to surrounding vehicles and she had failed to signal when changing lanes.
During the stop, Ms. Brooks said in an interview on Tuesday, the trooper who approached her did not tell her why she was being pulled over even though she asked repeatedly.
“Instead of letting me know why he stopped me, he immediately escalated the situation, and said, ‘How about you step out of the car, and I’ll show you,’ or something of that nature,” Ms. Brooks said.
Ms. Brooks was eventually charged with three misdemeanors and an infraction: resisting arrest, eluding the police, reckless driving and failure to use headlights.
In a letter dated April 15 sent to the Virginia State Police’s Office of Internal Affairs, Steve T. Descano, the commonwealth’s attorney for Fairfax County, requested an investigation into the matter. He wrote that the traffic stop “was without proper legal basis,” citing a state law that went into effect on March 1 that makes it illegal for the police to pull over motorists for reasons including the smell of marijuana or a broken taillight.
“It’s sickening and unacceptable that any member of our community fears for their safety during a routine traffic stop,” Mr. Descano said in a statement. “That’s why I will not rest until we bring about the day when this is no longer the case.”
Ben Shnider, a spokesman for the commonwealth attorney’s office, said Mr. Descano took action as soon as he was made aware of the stop in mid-April. Since then, all charges against Ms. Brooks have been dismissed.
The Virginia State Police said in a statement that they had never received a formal complaint from Ms. Brooks about the encounter and that they “learned about her concerns through a third party.” Ms. Brooks disputes that assertion, saying she filed a formal complaint less than a week after the stop.
Corinne N. Geller, a spokeswoman for the state police, said an administrative investigation into the traffic stop was continuing.
For Ms. Brooks, who said her phone was knocked out of her hand as she tried to record the stop, the episode was a too familiar scene she has watched play out before in other Black drivers’ encounters with the police.
“I thought about Philando Castile, I thought about Sandra Bland, and as soon as I was shoved against the car I just hoped and prayed that it wouldn’t be me,” Ms. Brooks said.
Dashboard camera footage shows one trooper, Robert G. Hindenlang, and an accompanying trainee following Ms. Brooks’s car on the highway. Trooper Hindenlang makes a remark about Ms. Brooks’s taillights and eventually turns on his patrol car’s emergency lights.
Ms. Brooks said in an interview that when Trooper Hindenlang initially tried to pull her over, she thought the emergency lights behind her were an ambulance, so she stopped on the highway shoulder and then drove off.
Video footage shows Trooper Hindenlang approaching Ms. Brooks’s car and asking for her license and registration, to which she replies, “Sure” and asks why she was stopped. Trooper Hindenlang asks her to step out of the car numerous times, then opens her door and grabs her out of the car, forcing her into handcuffs while pushing her against the vehicle.
As the trainee holds onto Ms. Brooks, Trooper Hindenlang goes through her car and asks again for her license. Trooper Hindenlang later asks Ms. Brooks why her eyes are watering. “Because people have been shot by the police,” she responds. “I’m freaking nervous.”
Trooper Hindenlang asks whether she has been drinking, and she says that she had one cocktail earlier in the night but that she did not want to take a sobriety test or a breath test.
“In my mind, he already had me in handcuffs, so I didn’t trust that he will all of a sudden let me go,” Ms. Brooks said.
About two minutes later, Trooper Hindenlang tells Ms. Brooks that she is under arrest “for driving under the influence.”
According to a document showing the results of a blood-alcohol analysis test administered at the police station, Ms. Brooks had a blood-alcohol level of 0.0. However, she said the trooper told her she would still face other charges.
“At that moment, I felt so low, and felt so defeated and hurt,” Ms. Brooks said.
Ms. Brooks said she believed she would have received different treatment had she been a white woman.
“At no point in the stop or during that time was I treated with the dignity and respect that every human being deserves,” Ms. Brooks said of her encounter with Trooper Hindenlang. “If I was a white woman, I believe he would have immediately let me know why he was pulling me over.”
She also said she saw race play a factor when Trooper Hindenlang suggested that her mother was waiting for her in the lobby of the police station. Ms. Brooks said her mother had been dead for years.
“Without any other verification he just saw another Black woman and assumed,” Ms. Brooks said.
She said she decided to come forward about the encounter two months after it occurred when she learned about the death of Daunte Wright, a Black 20-year-old who was fatally shot during a traffic stop last month in Minnesota.
“I cried all day, and I said, ‘I can’t let someone else die from a pretextual stop,’” Ms. Brooks said.
As a Defense Department employee, Ms. Brooks often thinks about what it means “to protect and defend” people, she said, but she realizes sometimes those protections are not afforded to everyone equally. The trooper she encountered, she said, “refused to protect” her.
“I know that protection was refused because I’m a Black woman, and this can’t happen to anyone else again,” Ms. Brooks said.