A Black, disabled mother from Illinois is fighting back against the McDonough County Sheriff’s Office and the Macomb Police Department after claiming she was subjected to false accusations and a non-consensual strip search during a DUI arrest.
Ariel Harrison, 31, recounted her story to VICE, and faces five to seven years in prison for four charges: aggravated battery, driving under the influence, resisting a peace officer, and improper lane usage. Harrison has also lost custody of her three children, ages 6, 12, and 13.
Harris opted for a bench trial and was found guilty of all four charges. She faces sentencing on August 10.
On October 29, 2019, Harrison was pulled over by an officer in the Macomb Police Department who separately claimed they were responding to a call about reckless driving.
Harrison told the outlet that prior to the confrontation, she dropped her kids off at the YMCA and picked up a stranger who was caught in the rain and needed a ride. Harris, who is blind in her left eye, said she became confused after she noticed a police car was trailing her. Harrison pulled the car over to the side of the road after realizing police were instructing her to stop.
Because of her discombobulation, Harrison was not able to relay that the passenger side window could not roll down and unlocked her door which caused tensions to explode. Harrison said officers pulled her door open while yelling different commands.
“I was in shock mode, I guess. I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “I was still trying to process why I was being pulled over exactly when they snatched me up out of their car.”
Police maintain she was intoxicated, had slurred speech, and smelled alcohol coming from the vehicle. The police report obtained by VICE says that the passenger she picked up witnessed her downing two shots of Fireball whiskey prior to being pulled over, but Harrison claims that she had not consumed any alcohol that day.
To her surprise, Harrison was handcuffed without being told why she was pulled over, and never underwent a breathalyzer or a sobriety test. However, state law allows officers to arrest on probable cause if they believe a driver is under the influence.
Harrison claims she was tased several times before arriving at the McDonough County Jail. She says the situation caused more mental turmoil and she failed to comply with officers’ demands to exit the vehicle once she arrived at the jail. That’s when she was forcibly removed and slammed to the ground. Harrison says she unknowingly reached out for an officer’s collar in hopes to break her fall, which prompted the aggravated battery charge.
After that Harrison said she was tased again to the point of blackout. When she came to she found herself in a cell.
She was then ordered by a female officer to undress and refused out of fear of being sexually assaulted because a male officer was in the room at the time.
“I had told her that it’s not right. That he wasn’t supposed to be there while I changed,” Harrison said. “She told me, ‘Well, he’s here with me.’ Basically, she didn’t really care. I felt like she violated my rights.”
Two videos were obtained through an FOIA act launched by the Democratic Women of McDonough County, a local racial and social injustice organization backing Harrison. The group also launched a petition and a GoFundMe, calling for justice in Harrison’s case.
A disturbing portion of the first video shows Harris wrap an item of clothing around her neck and stand on the toilet. It’s unclear if the officers demanded she disrobe because of the incident. Harrison claims she has no recollection of intending to harm herself.
Three officers can be seen restraining Harris, with one kneeling on her back while they take off her handcuffs and sweater. In a second video, a female officer points a taser at Harris who begins to remove the rest of her garments after Harrison’s refusal. A second male officer assists, while a third male officer enters the room and kneels on her legs while they remove her underwear, leaving her completely naked.
“When I watch the video of them doing that stuff to me, I’m in shock. It’s like I look at them and say ‘that couldn’t be me,” she said.
The McDonough County Attorney’s office has launched an investigation into the case but would not give a comment to the outlet.