Mistaken identity turned violent arrest lays ground for lawsuit against Bakersfield police


Tatyana Hargrove, 19, says she’s paranoid after a violent arrest in Bakersfield on Father’s Day, in which police mistook her for a black male, and an officer punched her before a K-9 bit her thigh. (Photo: NAACP Bakersfield)

A California teenager plans to file a lawsuit against the city of Bakersfield after an officer punched her in the face and another unleashed a K-9 on her during an arrest that turned out to be a case of mistaken identity earlier this summer.

Tatyana Hargrove, 19, together with her lawyer, talked about the events of June 18 in a nearly half hour press conference last week. That’s when she announced she’s filing a claim against the city.

According to a police report, the officers were looking for a 25 to 30-year-old black male standing at 5 foot 10, and weighing about 170 pounds. He was wearing a white shirt and had a pink backpack, and he’d threatened several people with a machete at a grocery store. Officers were told he had the machete in his backpack.

“Upon my arrival at 1230 hours, I observed the suspect, later identified as (Hargrove), sitting on a black bicycle,” wrote Officer Christopher Moore in the police report. “She was wearing a white short-sleeve shirt, blue jean shorts, and she had a red and black backpack on.”

In a video released by NAACP Bakersfield in July, the 5 foot 2, 115 pound Hargrove described what happened next. “I was coming back from the Wooden Nickel to get my dad a Father’s Day gift. They were closed, it was Sunday. So I decided to turn back around and head home. It was about 103 degrees, I had three water bottles in my backpack, and I stopped … to take a sip. And then I turned around and there were three cop cars, and one of the officers already had a gun drawn at me.”

Hargrove said they asked her whether she was in the grocery store, and she said no. They asked if she was sure, and she said yes. They asked for her backpack, and she asked if they had a warrant.

“And then he pointed behind me, and he said ‘look.’ So I looked behind me and it was a big K-9 dog,” Hargrove said. “I then got scared and then I was like, ‘Here, just take the backpack.’”

Hargrove said she handed the backpack to Senior Officer G. Vasquez, who grabbed her by the wrist. She “spun into him with her left shoulder,” according to Moore’s police report, leading Vasquez to fall and land on his back. His legs were tangled up with Hargrove’s bicycle, and Hargrove landed on top of him “in a mounting position.”

That’s when Moore, the K-9 officer, shouted, “Police K-9, stop resisting or you will get bit.” Vasquez punched Hargrove once in the mouth, and she fell back. Moore, who, at the time, believed she was the machete-wielding suspect, wrote in his police report that “her backpack was within her arm’s reach and the main compartment was unzipped allowing her immediate access to the machete.”

Moore, sensing that Vasquez was in a “dangerous position,” unleashed the K-9, which bit into Hargrove’s right thigh.

“(Hargrove) sat up and grabbed onto (the K-9’s) muzzle with both of her hands and tried to pull him off. I shoved her onto her back and said, ‘Let go of my dog’ but she continued to hold onto his muzzle,” wrote Moore. He said Hargrove thrashed about and was cursing as the dog attacked, and as Moore and Vasquez tried to restrain her.

“Officer Vasquez put his knee in my back, and I told him I couldn’t breathe,” said Hargrove. “And then he put his other knee in my head, and I told him, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.’ And then I started yelling out ‘Somebody help me, somebody help me. They’re gonna kill me.’ And then finally he let me up, he tied my hands behind my back, and he tied my feet together, and he threw me in the back of the car. And on my way going back to the car I heard somebody say, ‘That’s not the guy, that’s not the guy.’”

The officers put her in the backseat of the squad car, and that’s when Moore said he asked her what her name was. She said it was Tatyana. “I said, ‘Don’t lie to me, that’s a girl’s name. What is your name?’ (She) said, ‘I’m a girl, I just don’t dress like one.’ This was when I first discovered she was a female,” Moore wrote in the report.

Moore searched her red and black backpack and found no weapons. Hargrove was taken to the hospital for treatment, and then booked into jail where she sat for 16 hours before her parents bailed her out. She was charged with resisting or delaying an officer and aggravated assault on an officer. Those charges were dropped in August.

In July, a spokesman with the department said they’d determined that the officers had used appropriate use of force in the incident with Hargrove. But she says it’s had a lasting effect on her.

“It was just vicious. It changed me. Very bad. My friends tell me I’m different,” Hargrove said at last week’s press conference, before starting to tear up. “I can’t talk about the story without crying. I hope and I pray this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”

She said she’s very paranoid. She makes sure her parents close the garage door, and the “doors have to be locked, windows have to be closed.”

“When you grow up, and officers come to your school, and tell you ‘you can count on us, you can count on us,’ and then they turn around and they just violate you and your rights, it’s just the worst thing ever,” she said. “It’s like being raped. But I’m not broken.”

Neil K. Gehlawat, Hargrove’s attorney, said the pending lawsuit against the city is the only way to get justice, adding he felt there was “virtually zero percent chance” the district attorney’s office or the U.S. attorney would seek charges against the officers.

“The only person that they were ever contemplating prosecuting is sitting right in front of you, and that’s the sad thing about this case,” Gehlawat said, gesturing to Hargrove.

“Her parents say that she used to be independent,” he said. “But now, around patrol vehicles, lights, sirens, she’s fearful … which is understandable because, the last time that happened, before she knew it an officer was pointing his gun at her and they had a K-9 biting her leg.”

Gehlawat said all the law allows him and his team to do is seek money. But ultimately, he hopes the pending lawsuit will send a message.

“Our hope is that, by going through this process and by potentially having this case heard by a jury, that they will send a loud and clear message to the officers in the department that what happened is not appropriate and it should not happen again,” he said.

Latest Reviews