Fear led to more fear Thursday morning as Kelsey Pierce was riding her bike to work at the Tower Theater on NW 23rd Street.
A sudden encounter with Oklahoma City police officer James Herlihy at NW 21st and Dewey led to what Pierce described as “complete fear” when the officer handcuffed her and placed her in the back of his patrol car.
The turn of events was set in motion by a fearful Mesta Park neighborhood resident who called 911 around 9:30 a.m.
An OKCPD call log obtained by Free Press shows the resident saying there was a white male and white female “on bikes riding around the area looking in driveways.”
The log also shows the caller thought they might have been “looking to see who was home.”
Pierce somewhat matched the description of the reported white female because she was wearing a dark top and carrying a backpack.
That was the pretext for Herlihy stopping Pierce.
“Someone called about a female with a black shirt on with a backpack looking in people’s driveway,” Herlihy told her about one minute and 35 seconds into the encounter.
But it was the officer’s response to her impatience that shifted her feelings to fear.
“At some point he asked me if I wanted to go to jail,” Pierce told Free Press in an interview Friday.
“I’ve never been to jail. I’ve never been in handcuffs. I’ve never been in the back of a cop car.”
While waiting on headquarters to run a warrant search which showed nothing, Herlihy searched Pierce’s belongings without her permission.
Free Press obtained the video of the whole encounter captured by Herlihy’s body-worn camera, one of hundreds now in use by OKCPD policy.
Pierce called in a complaint to the department because of what she believes to be aggressive behavior on the part of the officer for little reason.
While waiting for the warrant search Herlihy engaged in a short conversation through the patrol car window with Pierce.
She told him she was stumbling with responding to him at first because he startled her.
“Obviously you weren’t, that’s why you are in handcuffs in the back seat of the car, because you were throwing stuff at me,” Herlihy said. “You handed the ID card to me like you wanted to use it as a weapon and throw it at me.”
One entry in the call log shows that Herlihy tried to back up the assertion of the license being thrown. But, the video shows that Pierce simply handed the license to him.
Some of the many people who regularly bike through Mesta Park were shocked when news of the encounter started to filter out onto Twitter Thursday night.
Chad Hodges is one of the original organizers of DNA Racing, a pro bike racing team based in OKC.
What the hell! We ride through there no telling how many times a week. Sorry to hear about this.
— Chad Hodges (@ChadDNA) October 20, 2017
And some openly asked what might have happened if she had not been a white woman riding through a predominantly white neighborhood.
No hyperbole, I think if she was black she’d be dead.
— Marty, but spooky (@martypeercy) October 21, 2017
Pierce told us Friday that she has a new appreciation for the kind of fear that black people feel when they are stopped for seemingly small infractions and treated like criminals.
She was aware of the disproportionate stops police have made Oklahoma City’s past, but this event seemed to make it all more real for her.
“This is minute in comparison,” said Pierce. “But, feeling that way every day when you are walking out the door would be enough to make me stay home for the rest of my life.”
Her attorney, Bryce P. Harp, questions the legality of the stop.
He cited the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures.
“First, any person that is stopped by a law enforcement officer has the right to know why they are being stopped,” said Harp.
He said that Pierce’s being detained in the way she was amounted to an arrest in that she was not free to go.
“She was not given her due process right,” Harp said.
Recent Supreme Court decisions allow searches connected to an arrest, but it is based upon a lawful arrest having been made.
“If she had been lawfully arrested, then they could have searched her stuff without her consent. But it was not a lawful arrest, so it was an unlawful search,” Harp said.
Captain Bo Mathews with the OKCPD held a news conference on the matter at police headquarters Friday afternoon.
He said the matter would be investigated at the Division level but would not be referred to internal affairs investigators.
In response to a question by Free Press, Mathews said that the procedure for handling disciplinary matters like this one have a clear path defined by the officer’s contract negotiated by the police union and the department.