Juanisha C. Brooks was driving home on the Capital Beltway early on March 6 when she noticed the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle behind her. She initially mistook it for an ambulance and moved to the shoulder of an exit ramp to let it pass. Brooks quickly realized she was being pulled over and drove from the ramp to the first side street before coming to a complete stop.
Brooks repeatedly asked Virginia State Police Trooper Robert G. Hindenlang why he had pulled her over, and Hindenlang repeatedly refused to say, according to dashboard video from the trooper’s car. He didn’t tell her he’d noticed her taillights were out while she was driving. Instead, he told Brooks that if she stepped outside, he would show her why she had been stopped. Brooks told the trooper she didn’t want to leave.
According to the video, Hindenlang then unlocked Brooks’ door and dragged her out of the car while Brooks pleaded with him to stop. The trooper spun her around and handcuffed her. When Brooks refused to take a sobriety test after telling the trooper she had only had one drink, Hindenlang said, “You’re under arrest for driving under the influence.” “Why were your eyes so watery when I pulled up?” Hindenlang asked her. “Why were my eyes watering?” Brooks answered the trooper. “Because people are being shot by the police, I’m freaking nervous.”
At the Fairfax County jail, Brooks and her attorney said, she twice took a breathalyzer test. The results: a 0.0 blood alcohol level. As a result, Hindenlang charged her with resisting arrest, eluding police, failing to turn on her headlights, and driving recklessly.
Brooks claimed she forgot to turn on her headlights that night and didn’t notice the brightly lit Beltway. The Virginia General Assembly prohibited pulling people over for dark taillights on March 1st, because it led to the type of pretextual traffic stops that cause unnecessary conflict and consequences for otherwise law-abiding citizens.
Following the delivery of the video to prosecutors by Brooks’ attorney, Patrick M. Blanch, Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano dismissed all charges and directed state police to conduct an internal investigation. In a letter to police, he stated that “the stop was without proper legal basis,” citing a recent change in the law, and that the “dashcam footage does not provide a factual basis to support the warrants.” Hindenlang, 49, has been a state trooper for 24 years, according to Geller. He doesn’t have a voice mail or answering machine at the phone number listed for him, and he didn’t respond to an email requesting comment. The incident is being investigated internally by the state police, according to the department.
Brooks’ ordeal, however, did not end with his arrest. Hindenlang had had her car towed and had left her wallet and phone inside. Brooks said she asked Hindenlang where her car was after she was released on a signature bond, and he gave her a Post-it note with the name of the tow lot in Lorton, but nothing else. Hindenlang, according to Brooks, told her that her mother was waiting in the lobby and could assist her. Brooks’ mother is no longer alive.
A bondsman attempted to assist her in contacting friends, and eventually the magistrate in the jail sympathized with Brooks and drove her to the Vienna Metro station, where she was given $20, Brooks said. Because the station wasn’t yet open, she stood outside in the freezing cold for an hour. Brooks arrived at the tow lot after a train ride, two bus rides, and a cab ride, where she claimed she was charged $240 to extricate her car. She got home around noon, nearly 10 hours after Hindenlang had stopped her.
Some police departments, including Fairfax County, require officers to identify themselves and explain why they are being stopped. This is not required by the Virginia State Police. According to the video, Hindenlang asked Brooks if she had a license and registration, which she said she did, and told her to get out of the car, but he ignored her questions about why she had been stopped. He said he’d show her the reason if she got out, but Geller said the real reason for the request was to keep Brooks from driving away again.