In Janet Hawkins’ resisting arrest case, former officer treated like just another ‘angry’ Black woman
BY JAMES HARPER
Janet Hawkins believes there were several factors going against her during her resisting arrest trial last week at the Justice Center in Daytona Beach.
She is Black, female, and she was facing an all-White jury.
Another factor going against her that seemingly should have been in her favor is that she is a former Daytona Beach Police officer.
Unlike what is seen in the movies, the so-called “Blue wall of silence” came tumbling down as one officer after another testified against Hawkins on April 21.
The “Blue wall of Silence” is an unwritten rule among police officers in the United States not to report on another colleague’s errors, misconducts or crimes.
In September 2009, Hawkins was arrested on a felony charge of resisting arrest with violence and misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest without violence and careless driving.
The jury only found her guilty of resisting arrest without violence.
Two of the officers testifying against her were from the neighboring Holly Hill Police Department – Walter Melton and Rommel Scalf. The other officer was Lt. James Newcome from the Daytona Beach Police Department (DBPD).
Hawkins also had officers testifying on her behalf, including retired Sgt. Robert Smiley of DBPD. The officers testifying against her were White while those testifying in her favor were Black.
There are more than 270 police officers with the DBPD, but among spectators in the courtroom, a Daytona Times reporter counted only two DBPD officers who came to support Hawkins.
How it started
Hawkins’ concern for her son on Sept. 22, 2009, was the beginning of her fall from grace.
She was fired Dec. 4, 2009, after almost 15 years with the DBPD.
“The reason they cited was because I was untruthful, professional misconduct, I was arrested and I caused department morale to go down. Even the termination paperwork says ‘No Disciplinary History’ ” Hawkins told the Times this week.
The incident that led to Hawkins’ firing involved her son, Brandall, who was visiting friends at the Holly Point Apartments in Holly Hill on Sept. 22, 2009.
When he arrived at the apartment, a number of his friends, according to testimony, were being harassed and arrested by Holly Hill police officers.
Heeded son’s call
Holly Hill’s Melton was on the scene at the apartment and testified during Hawkins’ trial.
Brandall called his mother who told him to leave the apartment scene. Hawkins testified that she overhead Melton talking to her son before the phone went dead. That worried her so she left her Ormond Beach home to go to the Holly Point Apartments.
Melton said in court that he was told by Brandall that his mom was on her way. The Holly Hill officer also said under cross-examination that Brandall told Melton he didn’t have to tell him sh..”
“I told officers to arrest Brandall Hawkins,’’ said Holly Hill Police Officer Rommel Scalf, who testified that he was asked to assist at Holly Point Apartments by a shift supervisor.
“I didn’t have anything to do with the arrest (of her son),” said Scalf, when asked by the prosecutor during the trial.
However, on cross examination by Hawkins’ attorney Gail Graziano, a former Volusia County circuit judge, Scalf changed his testimony and said he did direct officers to arrest Brandall.
“He attempted to incite people. He was talking on the cell phone (to his mother),” Scalf said last week on the witness stand.
But Graziano said to Scalf: “He was exercising his right to free speech.’’
On cross-examination, Scalf admitted he was told that Brandall Hawkins was the son of then officer Janet Hawkins.
Brandall was charged with disorderly conduct, trespassing and obstructing an officer without violence. Last year, a jury found him not guilty on all charges.
After her son’s call, Hawkins went to the Holly Point Apartments to discover that he was not there and that he had been taken to the Holly Hill Police Station.
She drove from 15th Street down Center Street to LPGA Boulevard to get to the Holly Hill station, according to testimony during the trial.
As she was driving, Hawkins said she noticed no lights behind her but she had a hunch a Holly Hill officer was near because as she pulled out of the apartment complex, she noticed a marked police car in the parking lot.
‘Are you serious?’
During cross-examination last week, Scalf said he was following Hawkins with no headlights because she was speeding but said he had no speed detection device in his car. Yet he pulled her over at LPGA and Enterprise Court.
Scalf, who has 17 years experience with Holly Hill, retired on April 1.
He said Hawkins jumped out of a red Ford Explorer and asked: “Are you serious? Are you serious? I can’t believe you are doing this.”
After giving Scalf her license, she headed back to her vehicle and was talking on her cell phone to now retired Sgt. Robert Smiley.
Scalf says he told Hawkins not to walk away from him and asked her to get in her vehicle and follow him to the Holly Hill Police station.
Hawkins said she told him she knew where the station was located and could get their on her own.
“She made the mistake of not obeying Scalf. He throws her down and breaks her cell phone. She is under arrest for not hanging up her cell phone,” Graziano said in court.
Tried to taser
In reference to Hawkins’ identifying herself as a fellow officer, Scalf said: “I gave her the option to follow me to the police station. She wouldn’t listen to me. Just because you say who you are doesn’t mean you are who you say you are.’’
On police radio, Scalf refers to a “hysterical Black female claiming to be Daytona Beach police officer.”
Melton also testified that Hawkins was “angry her son had been arrested.” He was called to the Holly Hill street scene by Scalf and later asked Melton to taser Hawkins.
Hawkins was accused of calling Melton and Scalf “corrupt and rednecks.’’
Graziano told the jury: “Words are not a crime.’’ Graziano also said that when Melton used a taser on Hawkins he did so illegally.
Hawkins’ attorney also got Scalf to admit on the stand that passive or verbal resistance from a suspect doesn’t allow an officer to use a taser.
“The taser was unsuccessful. She had him (Melton) in a wrist lock. I tripped her legs and knocked them both to the ground,” Scalf continued.
Graziano said she learned prior to the trial that Scalf had at least seven complaints for excessive use of force, which the state did not produce as ordered by the judge.
Hawkins will appeal
On the stand, Hawkins denied she resisted arrest.
Hawkins said she knew when Scalf asked her to get back into her vehicle that she had to do so. She stated that when she attempted to do so, she was arrested.
Hawkins said she also recalls Scalf saying, “Your son is a thug and you are a thug.’’
“What good am I to my son if I’m locked up?” Hawkins asked, stating that she has been stopped before by other officers and she knew the routine.
“She had the right to speak loud, cuss, express her opinion to police and not be arrested for it,” Graziano said. “A crime involves conduct, not speech. There is no evidence her speech constituted resistance no matter how offensive speech is to police office.’’
Hawkins said she does plan to fight last week’s misdemeanor resisting arrest verdict.
“I do plan to appeal the verdict I can’t say much more about that. The penalty can be up to a year in jail. As for my job, because it’s a misdemeanor I can fight for the job, but that’s on the back burner,” she added.