On the John
“If it wasn’t happening to my friend, I wouldn’t believe it.”
Originally completed September 23, 2010
My friend DeAnna called me yesterday morning. Normally cheery, she sounded fearful. “I need help,” she said.
And she proceeded to tell me the story of her friend Nicole Dunson-Bowen, a 35-year-old mother and wife, six and a half months pregnant, and, as of last week, sentenced to three years in state prison.
On February 6th of this year, Nicole, her husband David, their three-year-old daughter Nia, and Nicole’s mother Jackie drove from Tallahassee to Miami to attend the Super Bowl. They brought with them homemade t-shirts to celebrate the New Orleans Saints. The shirts, DeAnna said, were in Saints colors. They featured the Saints’ fleur-de-lis on the front and the words WHO DAT on the back. They had no NFL logos.
In his official “incident synopsis,” David Bowen states: “My wife and I are both alumni of Florida A&M University whom (sic) the Marching 100 Band was performing for the Pre-game show. I had several t-shirts made up (90) for any of the band members and fellow alumni that were coming down to enjoy the weekend also.”
Upon their arrival in Miami, the Bowens parked their car, David put “about 36 shirts into a bag that I was toting around,” and the family set out to find food. In the crowd, the group became separated; David was ahead, Jackie, pushing Nia in the stroller, was in the middle, and Nicole, who had slowed to take pictures, was behind. As David walked, two men in plain clothes – one an I.C.E. agent (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) who identified himself as “homeland security,” the other an NFL employee – physically stopped him and began questioning him about the contents of his book bag. They hassled him about his t-shirts, threatened to charge him with selling counterfeit merchandise – “I told them several times that I was not selling, promoting, soliciting, nor advertising the shirts” – and asked for ID.
David phoned Nicole, asking her to go to the car to get his ID. Jackie arrived with Nia and questioned the officers, who told her to “keep moving.” The family moved toward the car, Jackie got into the passenger seat, and Nicole, having not yet seen the two plain clothes men and not yet knowing why her husband needed his ID, placed Nia into the car.
David Bowen: “After [the two plain clothes men] arrived at the car, Jackie entered the passenger side door and shut the door. Nicole put Nia in her carseat and started to put the stroller into the back hatch. As Nicole was putting the stroller into the hatch of the car, an NFL employee (Richard Logue) and I.C.E. agent (Eduardo Escobar) approached her from her rear, dressed in plain clothes without properly identifying themselves. Logue reached over her left shoulder and began pulling objects out of the car, elbowing her in her ribs, and calling her a ‘little nigger girl.’ She was startled and scared, asking them what they’re doing in her property, while attempting to close the hatch. Escobar approached her right side and boxed her in while also trying to retrieve items from the car. Logue continually elbowed Nicole and knocked her to the ground. She got up and took a wide stance and tried to close the hatch again. Escobar stated ‘Homeland Security’ but didn’t show identification. [Nicole] then balled up, backed up, moved to the left, fled to the driver’s seat, opened the door, started the car, and drove away.
“Nicole turned right onto 2nd Ave. where she saw a police vehicle with lights on ahead. She approached him, got out of the car and was waving him down as to help her. She told him she had been assaulted by two men and needed help. Officer Dominguez told her to ‘Shut up, I am in the middle of an investigation. Stand over there and be quiet.’ He then approached Escobar and Logue, obtaining their statements and side of the story.
“Witnesses were approaching and… attempting to give statements, but were told to leave, and that there was nothing to see there. Jackie had asked to speak with a Sergeant and that she wanted to press charges. As soon as she made that statement, the officers put the cuffs on Nicole. They would not tell us what she was being charged with. The only thing they kept repeating is that ‘If she would just shut her fucking mouth, then this would have all went away. She won’t shut up.’ My daughter was now hanging out of the rear window screaming ‘Mommy, mommy.’ I then walked over to her and picked her up and held her. They put Nicole in the car and took her to jail.”
The family bonded Nicole out the following morning, returned to Tallahassee, and took her to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, “where we found out that she sustained a chest contusion (bruised ribs), dislocated/sprained finger, and bruising on her knee, arms and breast area.”
Nicole was charged with felony battery against Escobar, the I.C.E. agent, and misdemeanor battery against Logue, the NFL employee.
“Okay…” I said, a bit confused as I tried to put these pieces together, “she was charged with a misdemeanor battery?”
“Yes,” DeAnna said. “Against the NFL person.”
“Based on what physical action?” I asked.
“That’s what the confusion is,” DeAnna said. “When you look at the testimony during the trial, the only thing that came out in terms of anyone being touched is they said that she brushed up against the I.C.E. agent when she pulled off with the car.” DeAnna told me that Nicole’s “action” – that is, her self-defense and defense of her mother, three-year-old daughter, property, privacy, and dignity, an “action” that, apparently, involved her standing after her assault, getting into the car, and driving away – was identified in court documents as an “aggressive stance.”
“However,” DeAnna continued, “these two people received no injuries – not a scratch, a bruise – nothing. She received a contusion to her chest, which is a bruised rib. She had a sprained finger. She went to the hospital. All of these are recorded in medical records.”
The case went to trial. Jury selection took place on July 19th. The trial took place on the 21st. All evidence was in Nicole’s favor. Independent witnesses had come forward to testify in the Bowen family’s defense. Nicole was physically injured. The plain clothes men, nothing.
The first twist in this maddening tale of “justice” gone gravely wrong came on February 6th, when the Bowens were harassed, assaulted, and detained without anything even resembling reasonable conduct. The officers could have just as easily questioned the Bowens, stripped them of their “counterfeit” merchandise, and written them a ticket. That alone would have been unreasonable, but at least not physically damaging.
The second twist came at the trial, when the prosecution produced a surprise witness, a bicycle cop who testified against Nicole. “And this is crazy,” DeAnna tells me, “because not only did the defense not know that he was going to be called as a witness, he wasn’t even the officer on duty at the scene! And what he did, he testified that Nicole was with David at the time of the first stop, not Jackie. So that threw the story out the gate because that eliminates the fact that she didn’t know who these people were. That was the last testimony the jury heard. They came back with a guilty verdict on both counts, and she was immediately detained and put into a woman’s correctional facility for Dade County.”
DeAnna pauses, breathing. And then, as if shocked she could forget this for even an instance, and simultaneously shocked at the high level of bureaucratic bullshit involved, she tells me: “And this guy is the husband of the judge’s assistant!”
“The bicycle cop, the key ‘witness,’ is married to the presiding judge’s assistant?” I ask incredulously.
I laugh. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to laugh. This is just unbelievable.”
But that’s nothing. Because here comes twist number three:
The sentence enacted by Judge Stacy D. Glick outweighed, by a long shot, the prosecution’s suggested sentencing.
“I went down for the sentencing,” DeAnna says. “This is the part I witnessed first hand, with my own eyes. [The prosecution] recommended a non-prison sentence, and [the judge] gives three years prison, two years house arrest. We couldn’t believe it.”
At this point, DeAnna asked if I would help her edit their press release. She was going to send it via email, but my computer does not do well with attachments, and since I was headed downtown anyhow, I went over to DeAnna’s office at True Star Magazine, a teen-produced quarterly that DeAnna co-founded.
It was 3 pm when I arrived. As usual, the office was hopping. True Star alum who now attend Columbia, DePaul, UIC, and other local schools still contribute to the magazine, and once the school day ends, the office is filled with high school students working on their stories and designs. DeAnna sits in the middle of this scene, nailing down advertising dollars while securing celebrity interviews for the students to conduct. She is constantly engaged – working the phones, emails, and of course working directly with students on editorial decisions. On this day, she is also working expeditiously to do whatever she can to free her friend.
“Great to see you Jack,” she says when I walk in. She shows me the case documents and the website nicoledunsonbowen.bbnow.org, and we review details once more. There is a new pressure: in the 63 days and counting that Nicole has been detained in the county jail, a handful of her fellow pregnant inmates have lost their babies, including one last week. Nicole went to the emergency room on September 20th with a bladder infection and yeast infection. She was prescribed medication, though as of yesterday, the correctional officers have not allowed her to use it.
“She’s six and a half months pregnant,” DeAnna tells me. “She has something called ‘placenta praevia,’ which is where the placenta’s blocking the cervix so you can’t have a natural child birth. You have to have a c-section. She had her first daughter premature. She’s 35-years-old. So she’s a high risk in all the sense of the words in terms of pregnancy.
“The judge didn’t even believe she was pregnant, even though she was obviously pregnant at the time of the trial. They made her get an ultrasound once she was admitted into the facility. And the prosecution pulled in an assistant who was pregnant, who, you know, in her testimony, said, ‘I’m pregnant too, and I’m doing all of this,’ and you know, ‘You shouldn’t have sympathy for this woman for being pregnant.’”
The family has now filed a mitigation for a reduced sentence, a hearing that will take place in six days, September 29th. DeAnna shakes her head again. “We’re doing all we can. Website, press release, Facebook group, contacting anyone we know who can help. If it wasn’t happening to my friend, I wouldn’t believe it.
“You know, Donte Stallworth gets a DUI in Florida, kills a guy, pleads guilty, and is released early from a 30-day sentence. And now Nicole’s getting three years? The judge said she was a flight risk. She lives in Tallahassee. Does that make sense?
“We can just pray that the judge shows mercy and reduces the sentence. I’m scared to even push for media coverage, because I don’t want the judge to use that against Nicole. But what else can I do?”
“The judge already showed her stripes when she handed down a three-year prison sentence for something that, it sounds like, should have been a fine at most,” I tell her. “If she looks at people trying to help a friend and uses that against that person, then Nicole is kind of screwed anyways.”
It was nearing 4 o’clock, and the conference room we were in was filling with True Star writing students. We wrapped our discussion, hugged, and said we would “be in touch.”
On my way out, DeAnna looked hopeless. “It just reminds you of how many people are going through something like this,” she said. “Nicole’s not the only one. I told her: ‘This is terrible, but remember, you’re just a vessel for a bigger issue. You’re just a vessel.’ There was nothing more I could say.
“This judge has been on the bench for around a year and a half. She has a very cruel history. She has no soul. I looked dead in her eyes and saw no soul. She was happy. When the prosecution was like, ‘We want her to donate $500 to a police fund, apologize, 300 hours of community service, anger management,’ and the public defender said, ‘We really just want probation,’ the judge kind of smirked and said, ‘She doesn’t respect authority. She may be smart, she may be a good mother, but she doesn’t respect authority. Three years prison, two years community control.’ And she had a smile on her face as she said it.”
The office was now buzzing with students, 16, 17, 18-year-olds, each one with business to discuss with their boss Ms. McLeary. DeAnna shook her head once more, smiled bravely, and returned to work.
Copyright 2010, jm silverstein
or more on this case, please see nicoledunsonbowen.bbnow.org
***OCTOBER 1, 2010 UPDATE***
Nicole is home! The judge is allowing her to return home until after her child’s birth. She will return to court following the birth, though it sounds as if her sentence will be commuted.