An African-American woman and Harrisonburg resident will be asserting in court that she was the subject of excessive force and racial profiling after an incident with the Harrisonburg Police Department that occurred Dec. 16.
Melissa Duncan, who was charged with two felony counts of assaulting a police officer, attended a party at the North 38 apartment complex that Saturday night, which carried into the next morning. HPD initially issued a warning to the residents for a noise complaint but returned to the apartment complex to issue a court summons following a second complaint.
According to body cam footage, five officers entered the apartment and arrested Duncan as well as two others after she engaged in a series of accusations of racism. A taser was used and police engaged in a struggle before forcing her into an HPD vehicle.
The Harrisonburg-Rockingham chapter of the NAACP originally condemned the officers but redacted its statement after reviewing the footage, saying in a Facebook post that it “can not justify a negative response toward HPD based on the facts we saw in the video.”
Police Chief Eric English issued a statement on the incident as well, saying that while the situation escalated further than it should have, it wasn’t a result of HPD’s actions. The department released the body cam footage, which isn’t standard procedure, in an effort to clarify the situation.
“I want to be clear that it is my goal to build positive relationships with our community,” English, who was sworn in as the chief of police in September, said in a Facebook post. “We strive to do that through communication, collaboration, and cooperation.”
The Daily News-Record reported that the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Democratic Socialists of America hosted a rally at Court Square on Thursday to protest the three arrests. The protestors disagreed with the NAACP’s conclusion and signed a petition for HPD to either drop all charges or make an attempt at restorative justice.
Nexus Services Inc., an immigration bond services company, is funding Duncan’s legal defense via a private law firm. The company asserts that HPD violated Duncan’s fifth amendment rights by entering her home illegally and her eighth amendment rights by originally denying her bail. Nexus paid for her bail Friday and released a statement that included a cell phone video recorded by one of the attendees at the party.
“Simply put, malevolent behavior cannot be tolerated, and law enforcement officers who believe they can enter a home without a warrant and assault the occupants need to be held accountable,” Nexus said in a statement.
Duncan has since been released from jail and is awaiting her court date in January. According to the independent Harrisonburg news outlet The Citizen, the Harrisonburg-Rockingham NAACP hopes to facilitate “a wider discussion” about the relationship between the police and local citizens in light of the incident.