Two Black women accuse Secret Service of wrongful detention; Secret Service disputes their account

Two women say US Secret Service officers rammed into their vehicle near the White House last Thursday evening, and surrounded and pointed guns at them before handcuffing and detaining them, leaving their babies unattended and crying.

The Secret Service says its investigation into what it is calling a felony traffic stop is ongoing but that some parts of the women’s account are misleading and false.

Timothy Maloney, an attorney representing the women, sent a letter to Secret Service Director James Murray last Saturday, demanding an investigation into the incident, saying the young Black women were “with their babies sitting lawfully in a car with D.C. tags.”

“Can the Secret Service honestly say it would have treated white out-of-town tourists and their babies, sitting there without District tags, the same way?” Maloney wrote.

India Johnson, 26, and Yasmeen Winston, 25, say they were sitting in a Ford Focus along Constitution Avenue near 17th Street NW, close to the White House, preparing to take their babies to fountains at the National Mall, when a marked Secret Service cruiser “rammed” into the front driver’s side of the Focus, Maloney’s letter says.

Johnson and Winston say they were surrounded by officers, including one who pointed his rifle at them and their babies. The women say they were told to “get out one-by-one” and put their hands in the air. The letter says the women were handcuffed and then detained, leaving their babies — a 6-month old and 1-year-old — crying and unattended.

The women say they were handcuffed while their babies remained in their car. They say that the officers told them the car had been reported stolen and they were looking for two Black men. The two women and their children were eventually taken by ambulance to Howard University Hospital, where they were examined and released, according to the letter.

The incident was first reported by The Washington Post.

While the women’s lawyer suggested the women were treated differently because of their race, the Secret Service late Tuesday said that its Uniformed Division officers were notified that the Ford Focus was connected to criminal activity and had been identified by a License Plate Reader system operated by the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia.

The officers were informed that a person known to have driven the vehicle was wanted by Fairfax County Police in Virginia in connection with several felonies and was considered “armed and dangerous,” according to a statement from Secret Service.

The Secret Service issued the statement late Tuesday after CNN and other news outlets, plus Washington, DC’s delegate in Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, pressed for details about the incident. The case is being investigated while racial turmoil and unrest erupts around the country in the wake of George Floyd’s arrest and killing at the hands of police in Minnesota in May.

It also comes at a time when thousands of protesters have called for police reform, urging cities to develop response strategies that foster greater trust between law enforcement officers, especially in communities of color.

A Uniformed Division patrol unit operating near the White House saw the Ford Focus, and upon matching its description and license plate number to the alert put out by Metropolitan Police, initiated a felony traffic stop, Secret Service said. Ultimately, the officers determined that the women were not wanted by law enforcement and they were released, according to the statement.

A spokesperson for Fairfax County Police tells CNN that they are still looking for the two suspects, Tyquan and Tyee Johnson, who are facing multiple charges in connection to a shooting in Reston, Virginia.

The Secret Service statement also noted that the vehicle crash was an accident, saying in a statement: “During the felony traffic stop, a Uniformed Division patrol unit made incidental contact with the suspect vehicle. No injuries were reported at the scene. Out of an abundance of caution, Uniformed Division officers requested D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services respond to the scene. The health and welfare of all of the occupants of the vehicle, to include two children, was a priority for the responding officers.”

A law enforcement source described the crash as a minor tapping of the front bumpers after one officer conducting the stop accidentally failed to place his cruiser in park before jumping out.

Video of the incident exists, law enforcement sources tell CNN.

The women’s attorney spoke to CNN before the Secret Service released more details Tuesday night, saying: “The Secret Service seems to have learned nothing from the events of this summer. They need to explain why this happened and what they are going to do about it.”

The attorney has not responded to requests for comment after the statement from the Secret Service was released.