By Chida Warren-Darby – Co-Publisher
Cassandra Harris is a 27 year old former foster youth from San Diego, who entered the system at just six years old. Upon completion of high school, Harris emancipated and pursued a life of service to helping those in need. As a foster youth advocate through California Youth Connection for over the last 10 years, Harris has spoken at over 200 events on behalf of youth struggling to overcome the odds in care and life. But in spite of the fact that she lends her voice to speak for those who have suffered trauma in the system, Harris found herself voiceless in November 2014, when she and her friend were attempting to break up a fight between a mutual friend and two other young women. “The police arrived on the scene to find the assailants with weapons in their hands, as well as my best friend and I,” Harris recalls. “Words were exchanged between the assailants and the police, and then the assailants were allowed to leave the scene.” Harris stated that she and her friend stood by continuing to watch as an officer went to speak to the victim, then returning to them. When the officer approached Harris she said “No scratches on my face or nothing,” in an attempt to rule herself out as a suspect. The officer then order Harris to sit on the curb, in which she responded “No.” “He immediately grabbed me and proceeded to handcuff me,” she shared. “I wrapped my arms around the police car door and put my head down while repeating over and over ‘I want a female officer. Am I being detained?’” She was told simply that she was being arrested for resisting arrest. “I continued to try to release my wrists from his hold,” she recalled, but was unsuccessful. The police report stated that Harris “grabbed his groin,” but she says “not once did I strike, push, or harm him in any way.”
According to Harris, she and her friend were placed in two separate vehicles. “After they attempted to question her, and she refused to answer, the officer dealing with her released her after stating that she was not complying.” Then a female officer arrived on the scene. “She approached the window of the car I was in, and asked me what was going on?” Harris explained to her that she didn’t understand why she was being arrested. “She said she didn’t believe I was under arrest, but simply being detained.” Harris said the female officer called over the arresting officer, asking him what was going on, in which he responded quietly “She wasn’t part of the fight, but you know…” At this point, Harris said she grew concerned for her wellbeing. “The female officer responded as if she understood what he meant to say.”
Frustrated and confused, Harris said she lost all sense of self, while riding away from the scene in the back of the police car. She began to bang her head inside of the vehicle, which prompted officers to pull over, remove her from the car, pepper spray and hog tie her, place a spit bag over her head and place her back in the police car. Harris repeatedly told the officers that she couldn’t breathe, in which the female office replied that if Harris answered her questions she would give her air. “Once we were at the station I tried to explain to them that I have PTSD, due to an assault by a group home staff member while in foster care, and that they were not trauma informed.” Harris stated that they “laughed her off and left her in the police car until shift change was complete.” Even her requests to use the restroom were denied.
Harris was then transported to jail, but unable to be admitted due to her physical injuries. At Grossmont Hospital, her injuries were assessed. “From hours of being handcuffed, the skin on my wrists began to swell over the handcuffs, causing my skin to split and bleed to the point where emergency room doctors asked the officer to remove the handcuffs.” Harris said she was then sent back to jail, and left overnight, undocumented. The following day she received a bail call, in which the bondsman informed her that the officers had “forgotten about” her. “I don’t understand how I was forgotten about,” she said, “considering I was on suicide watch, with an officer coming by every 15 minutes to check my name off a list and state that I was alright.” Harris was able to bail herself out that day.
Harris says her job was almost lost due to the incident, and she is now being held responsible for the hospital visit, which totaled roughly $5000. “I was charged with battery on an officer, three counts of resisting arrest, and vandalism of a police car.” Because of the excessive force used against her, Harris suffers from nerve damage in her wrists, and has severe pain which has led to more medical expenses. She also suffers from psychological trauma, which has made it difficult for her to focus and function daily. “This is not the first time that [they] have misused their authority against me.” Harris still continues to be pulled over in her neighborhood for unsolicited reasons. “It is disheartening to realize that the same county that I was raised by and have fought to improve through legislative work for the last 10 years has once again inflicted such pain on me…unfortunately I am just one of many.” Harris has served as a Case Manager for adult homeless women in downtown, since 2011, assisting women who suffer from co-occurring disorders; by helping them on their journey to self-sufficiency. Despite being homeless, abused and neglected, Harris has dedicated her life to working toward a better tomorrow for the youth to come. She was enrolled in college but has been unable to return due to the many hardships she’s faced in recent years. “I am currently working on returning to college for audio production,” she shared. “I rap and have recently started incorporating singing into my work.” Harris is using her music to help all relate to one another’s pain, in order to heal and move forward in life.