Backlash after the May 20 arrest of Carmen Ponder, the 2016 Miss Black Texas U.S. Ambassador, has led to the resignation of the Commerce Police Chief Kerry Crews and Commerce ISD school board trustee Michael Beane. “Neither Beane nor Crews accept responsibility for their actions, nor the pain they caused Ms. Ponder, but they have been sure to paint themselves as victims of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Ponder’s lawyer, Lee Merritt, said in a statement to the Root. “Ms. Ponder’s experience with both of these men shows why they would allude to this.”
The afternoon of May 20, Ponder—a 23-year-old pre-law student at Texas A&M at Commerce—was involved in an traffic-related incident with someone she initially identified as Crews. Later, she would clarify that it was Beane who approached her at Walmart. Ponder said that Beane had cut her off as he attempted to teach his 14-year-old daughter to drive. When Ponder pointed out that the teenager should not be driving, Beane allegedly called her a “black bitch” (the police report only says “bitch”).
During the confrontation, Beane spotted Crews, who was off-duty and in plain clothes, in the Walmart parking lot, and told him about the incident. Crews ordered Ponder to answer his questions. She refused. According to media reports, Crews wanted Ponder to apologize.
There’s video of what happened next. Ponder, in the entryway to the store, is in the middle of a confrontation with two men, one of whom briefly flashes a police badge at her. She makes a call to someone she says is her lawyer, explaining the situation—”I have someone who says they’re an officer trying to detain me. He’s the friend of a guy who called me a black bitch at the Walmart parking lot. He’s telling me that I’m being detained and he’s waiting for officers to get here. I’m trying to get in my car and leave. They stood outside and waited for me to come outside. They’re blocking the door.”
Eventually, a police car arrives at the scene. When it does, Ponder begins to exit the entryway and Crews grabs her. She tells him that she’s trying to go to the police car as the uniformed officer gets out of the vehicle and approaches—at which point Crews orders the officer, who just arrived at the scene, to put Ponder in handcuffs. The officer grabs Ponder’s arms as he takes her to his car, as she shouts a phone number to a woman observing the encounter. Crews orders Ponder to “talk about what happened a while ago” to the officer who just handcuffed her, and Ponder says that she wants to talk to someone else. At that point, she’s put in the back of the police car. Shortly after, Ponder was charged with evading arrest. Those charges have since been dropped.
Ponder hired Merritt, a Dallas-area civil rights attorney, to represent her. The City of Commerce hired an outside law firm, Fort Worth-based Lynn, Ross, and Gannaway, to investigate Ponder’s claims that she was discriminated against. Lynn, Ross, and Gannaway didn’t find evidence to substantiate the claim that Ponder’s arrest was racially motivated, but Crews—who was on leave pending the investigation—opted to resign on Monday regardless. In a statement provided to the mayor, Crews explained that, though he had been told that uniformed officers had been called to the scene on May 20, he decided to intervene.
“I felt it was something I could handle,” he wrote. “I was wrong.” Crews explained that he became “emotional” because he was “unprepared for the response” from Ponder, who he felt was disrespectful of his position as the police chief, “as a result of being off-duty.”
“The past several years have been difficult in the City of Commerce, and they have worn on me,” Crews explained. “After all that has gone on in the last few weeks, I do not feel that I can continue to bear the weight of the Police Chief position.” Although Crews is leaving his position within the Commerce Police Department, he’s not out of a job—he’ll be transitioning to a newly-created position in the city as assistant to the city manager.
On Tuesday morning, Beane resigned from his role at the Commerce Independent School District, as well. Beane said that, while he believed that neither he nor Crews did anything wrong, the attention on Commerce as a result of the encounter was bad for the town. “We don’t need to be held hostage,” Beane told reporters.