Updated, May 26, 4:10 p.m.
Commerce Chief of Police Kerry Crews is on administrative leave following the controversial arrest of a Texas A&M University-Commerce student, who alleges that her race played the determining factor in her arrest.
Carmen Ponder, 23, of Dallas, was arrested on May 20 in Commerce and later charged with evading detention, a class A misdemeanor. Ponder was booked into the Hunt County Detention Center in Greenville and released on $1,000 bond on May 21.
On social media, Ponder has described a road-rage incident that she said involved her and a white man who had been a passenger in a black truck that followed her into the parking lot of the local Walmart, located at 2701 State Hwy 50. Ponder alleges that the man called her a "black b----" during the encounter, which ended minutes later with Ponder’s arrest by Commerce police.
Ponder and her attorney, Dallas-based S. Lee Merritt, initially claimed that Crews was the man from the black truck. However, in a Twitter post today, Merritt suggested that Commerce Independent School District board member Michael Beane could have been the man from the truck. Merritt criticized the City of Commerce for not releasing the identity of the man from the truck.
A request that the Commerce Police Department provide KETR with the May 20, 2017, 911 emergency call record and any incident report or arrest record relevant to the case was referred to the City of Commerce. Commerce City Manager Darrek Ferrell said that the city would not release the records on the grounds that release of the requested documents would compromise the investigation of the incident.
Because the episode involved Commerce Police Department officers, the city has hired Fort Worth-based law firm Lynn, Ross and Gannaway to conduct an investigation. Ferrell said the city had sought the services of the Texas Rangers, but the law enforcement agency declined to investigate the incident. The Texas Rangers told City of Commerce that the case was "not of a criminal nature," Ferrell said.
Crews, citing the advice of his attorney, is declining to grant interviews to the media. A phone call and an email to Beane's business, Com-Tex Heating and A/C, was not returned.
Merritt specializes in cases involving African-Americans and law enforcement. Merritt is also representing the family of Jordan Edwards, the 15-year-old boy who was fatally shot by Balch Springs Police officer Roy Oliver on April 29. Calls to Merritt’s office have not been returned at the time of this report.
Ponder’s initial account of the incident on social media contrasts sharply with the City of Commerce release describing the incident. Both parties agree that the incident began with a road-rage encounter between Ponder and another unidentified party, which escalated in the Walmart parking lot and ended in Ponder's arrest. However, the identities of the people from the other vehicle remains a matter of dispute.
Ponder said that she passed a black truck that was driving erratically on her way to the Walmart. Ponder said the truck followed her to the Walmart. Once at the parking lot, Ponder said that an adult white man came out of the truck and began yelling at her.
Ponder describes an argument between her and the man, during which he said that he was teaching his 14-year-old daughter how to drive. Ponder describes telling the man that what he was doing was illegal, and that the argument became heated. Ponder said the man yelled "Whatever, you black b-----" as she went to enter the store.
Ponder describes making a purchase and coming out of the store to encounter the man from the truck with another man and a woman.
"One of them showed me a badge and said, 'This here is my chief and what he says goes, and you're going to apologize to him," Ponder told Dallas-based WFAA-TV. "And I told him I was not going to apologize to him, I was going to continue walking to my car and I was going to go home."
Ponder was then arrested, she said.
The city’s release describes Crews as being off-duty at Walmart when he was approached by an unnamed party involved in a dispute with Ponder about something that happened while Ponder and the unnamed party were driving.
Ponder was arrested by Sgt. Kalei Beelitz, who was the officer responding to two 911 calls about the incident. Both Ponder and one of the passengers from the black truck called 911, Ferrell said.
Ponder is a senior at A&M-Commerce and is majoring in political science. Ponder has been an intern at the Hunt County District Attorney’s Office since January 2017. Ponder was recognized as Miss Black Texas 2016.
Ponder’s overnight detention at the county jail in Greenville is standard procedure for all detentions of people charged with a class A misdemeanor, Commerce police said. The Commerce jail typically only boards people charged with class C misdemeanors, while those charged with more severe offenses are boarded at the Hunt County Detention Center. Class C misdemeanors are the lowest level of criminal offenses in Texas.
Crews, 46, of Commerce, has been City of Commerce Chief of Police since 2003.
Scott Morgan contributed to this report.