Chants filled the air following fists of different skin tones as dozens of people participated in a march Tuesday afternoon, walking from Griffith Boulevard to the Nacogdoches Police Station to rally for justice after a perceived police brutality incident involving SFA students.
Video footage of an off- duty police officer not in uniform at The Verge apartment complex on April 10 shows the police officer grabbing SFA students Shannon Williams and Lindsey Ogbonna and throwing them to the ground. Released dashcam footage from the Nacogdoches Police Department also shows this.
Sgt. Brett Ayres said the officer serves as courtesy security at the complex, where the officer lives, and he was investigating the group of women who were there.
Two women were arrested in connection with the incident. Kayla Jackson was charged with criminal trespassing, and Ogbonna was charged with assault of a public servant and resisting arrest, search or transport. Ogbonna posted bail on April 11. The officer said he was assaulted, and was taken to the hospital and treated for minor injuries. An internal investigation is underway.
"I'm supporting my girlfriend [Williams]; she was the one that was assaulted by the cop. It was outright wrong because she was plainly doing nothing,” said Chris Boyd, marketing major from Dallas. “She was simply going to her car, leaving the premises, and she was attacked by the police. And the second girl that came, she was simply protecting her, and it was just wrong. That’s why I’m here supporting her, because cops feel like the badge gives them the right to do anything...”
In the dashcam footage, the officer pulls up to the group in a police vehicle. A few of the women begin to walk away from the area and the officer yells, “Don’t you leave or I will charge you with evasion. Y’all stay here.” Then the officer gets out of the vehicle, walks and points at a few of the women and then dashes out of the camera’s line of vision. A woman can be heard yelling, “Oh my God.”
In footage taken from witnesses’ phones, this was about the time the officer took down one of the women.
In the dashcam footage, several members of the group begin to run toward the same direction the officer ran, out of view. The group begins to head back toward the view of the camera showing the officer holding a woman and pulling her closer to his car. In the background shrill yells of “get off of her, get off of her,” can be heard, as some of the women move in closer, even touching the officer. Just a few seconds later, an altercation between the officer and Ogbonna begins. Hands fly and then the officer grabs Ogbonna and throws her to the ground, eventually pinning her. A voice comes over the police vehicle’s radio, saying that there are several calls coming in about the situation. A man in dark clothing then runs up to the group. Two more officers arrive and a police car pulls around in the background. The dashcam footage ends.
In a different video taken by a witness, it shows Williams’ face rammed up against a curb, her eyes filled with tears; she puts her hand against her already bruised face.
The City of Nacogdoches Facebook page shared the dashcam footage along with a statement from the NPD.
“On April 10th an off-duty Nacogdoches Police Department Officer working security contacted a large group of individuals in an apartment complex parking lot in the 1600 block of Cardinal St during a Criminal Trespass Investigation.
“The officer is a courtesy officer who resides at the complex. This officer is frequently relied upon to assist the complex with routine security matters. Contact was made due to ongoing issues with trespassing, burglaries, and other criminal issues at the facility. During the incident the off- duty officer requested back up from on duty officers. Multiple individuals refused orders to stay while the officer attempted to complete the investigation to determine if the group was trespassing. During the incident the officer had two suspects resist arrest at different times. One of the suspects fled the scene on foot. The officer was also assaulted during the incident causing minor injuries. The officer was taken to an area hospital for treatment and later released. Lindsey Ogbonna, 19, years of age from Nacogdoches, TX was arrested during the investigation and charged with Resisting Arrest. The criminal investigation into the assault on the officer is ongoing and further charges may come at a later time.
‘“Transparency is of utmost importance to the Nacogdoches Police Department,” Sgt Brett Ayres, Public Information Officer with the Nacogdoches Police Department said. ‘Several concerns have been expressed by the community members affected and we are committed to continuing conversations with all involved.’
“The Nacogdoches Police Department has also released the dash cam video from the officer’s vehicle to further the goal of transparency.”
Before the group began marching, a black Ford truck marked with a red “TR” on the back window drove around three times and could be heard playing “Dixieland” over the horn. Onlookers identified one of the people in the truck as Ty Rosellini, a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. When contacted, Rosellini denied playing “Dixieland,” but confirmed he was riding around with a few of his fraternity brothers and that two of them were wearing red, “Make America Great Again” hats. Rosellini denied a request for an interview with The Pine Log.
The march began with the SFA University Police Department following the group of protesters to the NPD in order to make sure everything was safe. Shouts of “this racist system has got to go,” filled the air space, leaving a few observers with puzzled looks on their faces, asking what was happening.
“About my hat, which, you know, says ‘Make Racism Wrong Again,’ it obviously resembles a MAGA hat, lampooning that, and of course it’s ironic. Obviously, racism has always been wrong, it just seems that under the Trump administration, he seems to be making it acceptable, and it always has to be unacceptable,” said Alec Johnson, a citizen of Nacogdoches. “We need to fix this. In fact, to remedy this, in part, Bosslight Books and I are going to purchase five copies of a book called ‘The New Jim Crow,’ which lays out America’s racist caste system, and we’re going to give a copy to every member of the city council. They don’t have to read it, but they can no longer plead ignorance. They have an opportunity to make themselves wise on this issue, and we need wise leadership that governs everybody fairly.”
One of videos of the incident was posted on Twitter and now has almost 90,000 views. After awareness of what happened grew, an email was sent out to students from Dr. Steve Westbrook, interim president of SFA. In the email, Westbrook cites the 95-year relationship between SFA and Nacogdoches.
“In a community as interconnected as ours, we rely on each other for mutual support for the well-being of everyone involved. That is why this matter has caused concern,” Westbrook said. “I have spoken with Mayor Shelley Brophy about the incident and appreciate her assurance that the on-going investigation into the matter will be thorough. She strongly reinforced the importance of the university and our students to the Nacogdoches community.”
As the crowd reached the NPD, the chants grew louder, becoming in sync with each other, drowing out the traffic noise. Bright sunlight hit the pavement as the group, wearing all black, hoisting posters made the night before, came to a halt. Olinka Brown, a woman wearing a press badge and leading the group spoke.
“It is a beautiful black day,” she said.
Brown called upon the group to sit in the courthouse on the day of Ogbonna’s hearing and “make them uncomfortable.”
Ogbonna and Williams both spoke, and Williams cried and choked on her words as she thanked everybody for being there.
“I just wanted to let y’all know this really means a lot to me,” Williams said. “I might not have met every single one of y’all, but y’all have touched my heart and y’all have touched every single part of me. Y’all will always be part of my life. Y’all will always be part of my family. No justice,” and the crowd responded back with, “no peace.”
In response to growing concerns on social media, several student leaders posted their opinions on the subject. A GoFundMe was set up by Jackson to post bail for Ogbonna and has reached $1,305 of its $1,780 goal with 40 separate donors and donations ranging from $5 to $500. A letter signed by Student Body President Jeffrey Agouna on Student Government Association letterhead states that the SFA population is 66 percent women and that the SGA wants women to not only feel safe on campus but also in the Nacogdoches community as well.
“As students, we strive to live by the SFA Way root principles of respect, responsibility, caring, unity and integrity, and we expect nothing less from the police officers that are supposed to serve and protect the Nacogdoches community,” the letter read.
“Seeing that SFASU college students make up a significant amount of the Nacogdoches community, it is in the best interest of the community to make sure students feel safe and welcomed in the town that they call home. Moving forward we urge that an ongoing investigation is implemented and action taken towards the officer who was involved.”
Tanjunikqua Brown, a witness to the incident, has lived in Nacogdoches since August 2018.
“Especially as a black female, a female period, living in Nacogdoches County. I don’t feel welcome,” she said.
Staff Writer Meredith Janning contributed to this article.