Atlanta, GA – A woman who wreaked havoc and threatened employees inside a Waffle House in 2018 has filed a lawsuit against the restaurant chain, claiming employees discriminated against her because she is black.
Viral cell phone footage of her arrest showed the combative woman as she cursed and fought with police. At one point, her strapless shirt fell down, exposing her breasts.
But the video didn’t show what occurred prior to officers being called the scene.
Waffle House employees told police that the Clemons and her friend, Canita Adams, arrived at the restaurant carrying an alcoholic beverage, and were told they couldn’t have it, Saraland Police Detective Collette Little explained during a press conference shortly after the incident.
Clemons’ mother, Chiquitta Clemons-Howard, told The Birmingham News that her daughter had gotten upset after she requested an extra set of plastic eating utensils and an employee who took her order told her that they would cost an additional 50 cents.
But employees said they’d agreed to give Clemons the utensils for free after she had a fit, and that the silverware wasn’t the reason she was asked to leave Waffle House, police said.
“I interviewed the three officers…six employees and one customer,” Saraland Police Detective Brian Mims said. “Two witnesses were African-American and four were female. All witness accounts were in concert, and reported the individuals smelled of alcohol and appeared intoxicated. One person did bring a drink into the establishment… they were asked to leave because of the beverage.”
Witnesses told police the situation rapidly escalated and the women started screaming obscenities at the restaurant staff, Det. Mims said.
“Bit-h, you don’t know what I got going on. Why you is in my business – I may have a gun, I may have anything. I can come back here and shoot this place up if I need to,” one of the women threatened, witnesses told police.
“I’ll come over this counter and beat your [f--king a--],” one of the women told an employee, a witness reported.
“[Bit-h[, I’m gonna have your job. You ain’t gonna be here tomorrow,” one of them taunted the employee, according to witness statements given to the Saraland PD.
When police arrived, witnesses reported that Clemons refused to comply with officers’ commands multiple times before she was arrested.
Adams began recording as officers approached Clemons and attempted to remove her from the restaurant.
Clemons was seated, and appeared to be holding her shirt up as she argued with an officer, the video showed.
“I heard the f-bomb and everything,” the officer calmly told her, as he tried to secure one of her hands.
“No, but that’s not what you’re gonna do to me,” Clemons said, as she pulled away from the officer. “You not gonna grab on me like that, no.”
The edited video then cut out, and resumed as two officers took the argumentative woman down onto the ground.
She attempted to roll onto her back, and continued to argue and resist the officers’ directives to comply.
"What'd I do wrong?" Clemons yelled.
"I'm about to break your arm," one officer replied, as he tried to pull Clemons' arm away from her body.
A third officer entered the frame, and calmly told Clemons that she was being placed under arrest.
The video cut out once again, and Clemons was lying on her stomach in handcuffs when the footage resumed.
Clemons’ shirt fell down during the scuffle, exposing her breasts, and further added to the controversy surrounding the video. Claims were that officers "ripped" her shirt off, although the video showed that wasn’t the case.
“You wanna come fix her clothes?” one officer asked Adams.
“No, y’all fix it!” Adams replied, refusing to help her friend.
Det. Mims said the man who was with them stepped in and offered to pull up her top, and was granted permission.
Despite a widespread outcry that alleged the arrest had been racially motivated, Det. Mims said his investigation determined that the entire incident resulted from the women bringing an alcoholic beverage into the Waffle House.
“Throughout the officers’ interactions with Miss Clemons, she appeared to be intoxicated. When she was booked in, she did get sick,” Det. Mims said at the press conference, as they showed a video of police giving Clemons a bucket to throw up in while she was waiting to be processed at the jail.
Clemons was charged with misdemeanor offenses of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
In August, a jury convicted her of resisting arrest, but found her not guilty of the disorderly conduct offense, WVUE reported.
Mobile County Judge Mandy Hambright sentenced Clemons to six months in prison, but suspended her sentence, so she served no additional time in custody.
Clemons filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta on Wednesday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
In the lawsuit, Clemons denied allegations that she or anyone else in her group were unruly or intoxicated when they went to the Waffle House.
According to Clemons, the employees called police simply because she and her friends are black, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The lawsuit alleged that the Waffle House is liable because the company “endorsed and ratified” its employees’ discriminatory behavior.
“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 suit read, 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.”
Clemons complained that she suffered emotional and physical injuries as a result of her arrest, and that she also lost her job.
“I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I’m constantly crying,” she told WKRG shortly after the incident.
She has requested to be awarded unspecified damages, and asked the court to order the company to “adopt and enforce policies that end racial discrimination at its restaurants,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Clemons’ attorney, Benjamin Crump, claimed that the viral cell-phone footage proved that police assaulted his client.
Crump's past clients include the Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin families.
“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 told WVUE. "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.”
Waffle House released a brief statement about the lawsuit on Wednesday.
“As we’ve said previously, we regret this incident happened at all,” the company said, according to WVUE. “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.”
You can see video from the initial incident below: