COMMERCE, Texas - A former Miss Black Texas pageant winner and her attorneys still believe her arrest at an East Texas Walmart was racially motivated. But the city says investigators never found evidence of racial motivation.
Investigators say Commerce Police Chief Kerry Crews never made any derogatory remarks toward Carmen Ponder. She originally claimed he yelled a slur at her during a confrontation in the store parking lot.
Ponder’s story has changed since, but she still believes the arrest was wrong. She is no longer concerned with the derogatory name she was called but is focused now on the arrest that she says was unlawful.
Ponder believes she was arrested at a Walmart in Commerce because she's black. But the results of an independent investigation into the arrest and her original claim that Chief Crews made a racist remark now dispute that.
The findings by a law firm hired by the city of Commerce say, “The investigation revealed that there was no evidence that Chief Crews made any racial statements to Ms. Ponder or anyone else. There is also no evidence the arrest was racially motivated."
Ponder's attorney, Lee Merritt, maintains the arrest was unlawful.
“Spending the night in jail for refusing to apologize to a white man who had just accosted her,” he said.
Ponder says on May 20 after a road rage incident with the driver of a pickup truck, the driver followed her to Walmart and confronted her. She first claimed that driver was Chief Crews and that he called her a derogatory name.
Ponder and her attorney now admit she wrongly identified the chief as the driver who confronted her and may have made a derogatory comment.
The city says the chief became involved in the confrontation because he happened to be shopping at the Walmart at the time. But Ponder is not apologizing for anything.
Ponders says she tried to ignore the still unidentified driver from the confrontation and went in the store. She says when she came out, a man with a badge told her she needed to apologize to the police chief. Ponder said no thank you.
The City of Commerce has not addressed whether the chief, the unidentified driver or anyone else told her to apologize. Merritt says she was then grabbed and told she was under arrest. Police say she failed to comply with the officer's requests and started walking away.
“From a civil rights perspective, from a lawful perspective, that is not a lawful command,” Merritt said.
The pageant contestant was charged with evading arrest or detention and spent the night in jail.
“She called the police herself and said that she was being detained,” Merritt said. “She wasn't sure for what.”
Merritt says Walmart does have a video showing the arrest, but he has not seen it. He plans to file a civil rights lawsuit against the department.
Ponder started her own crowdfunding site to raise money for her legal fees. The charge against her has not been dropped.