Texas trooper’s bodycam footage appears to contradict sexual assault allegation, attorney apologizes
May 23, 2018, 1:15 p.m.: On Tuesday night, the Texas Department of Public Safety released body camera footage of an arrest made on Sunday, after which Sherita Dixon Cole alleged that the arresting officer had sexually assaulted her. After reviewing the footage, the attorney for Dixon Cole issued a statement declaring that the footage appears to contradict his client’s allegations. Mic has updated its story below.
A Grapevine, Texas, woman named Sherita Dixon Cole recently accused a Texas Department of Public Safety state trooper of sexually assaulting her and making a veiled threat to shoot her fiancé during a traffic stop on Sunday, according to her attorney. However, the trooper’s body camera footage, which was published on YouTube late Tuesday night, appears to completely contradict Dixon Cole’s claims.
Now her attorney, Lee Merritt, is apologizing after calling national attention to the case.
“I am truly sorry for any trouble these claims may have caused Officer [Daniel] Hubbard and his family,” Merritt wrote in a statement posted to his Facebook page early Wednesday morning. “I take full responsibility for amplifying these claims to the point of national concern.”
Hubbard pulled Dixon Cole over around 1:30 a.m. Sunday under suspicion of driving while intoxicated. The trooper’s body camera appears to have filmed the nearly two-hour encounter in its entirety, though the published footage has a few blurs and audio redactions to protect confidential information, according to the video description. The footage shows that the trooper found bottles of alcohol in the back seat of Dixon Cole’s car and had Dixon Cole conduct sobriety tests.
At no point during the stop did Hubbard appear to touch Dixon Cole inappropriately or make an audible threat to her fiancé, who arrived at the scene after Dixon Cole was handcuffed and put in the trooper’s vehicle.
The published footage does not show Dixon Cole, a 37-year-old human resources professional, mentioning any improper touching during the encounter or giving any indication that she’s in distress. Toward the end of the video, the body camera footage shows her having a calm conversation with Hubbard inside Ellis County Jail about her fiancé’s recent move to Waxahachie.
“Officer Daniel Hubbard seems to comport himself professionally during the duration of the traffic stop and arrest and — without more — should be cleared of any wrongdoing,” Merritt wrote in his Wednesday statement. “It is deeply troubling when innocent parties are falsely accused.”
The footage also shows Hubbard giving Dixon Cole a breathalyzer test and acknowledging that she passed it.
“Your breath came back just under the legal limit,” Hubbard says at one point in the video, noting that about two hours had elapsed since the traffic stop.
Activist and writer Shaun King’s tweet about the assault allegations went viral Sunday.
The Texas Department of Public Safety did not immediately say if any law enforcement agency would pursue charges against Dixon Cole for allegedly lying about the incident.
“That would be up to the district attorney,” Lt. Lonny Haschel wrote Wednesday in an emailed statement.
Merritt originally said over the phone that Dixon Cole alleged Hubbard groped and vaginally penetrated her with his fingers, and that the allegations were corroborated by her fiancé.
“She was taken to Hubbard’s cruiser and forcefully groped, fondled and vaginally penetrated during a prolonged arrest that included assaults outside and inside of the police vehicle,” Merritt had said in a written statement provided to Mic during a text-messaged conversation, as well as posted on Facebook. The post had been deleted as of Wednesday afternoon, after the release of the bodycam footage.
The Texas Department of Public Safety had declined to immediately provide an arrest report on Monday, but said the trooper’s dashcam footage doesn’t back up Dixon Cole’s account.
“The video shows absolutely no evidence to support the serious accusations against the trooper during the DWI arrest of the suspect,” Haschel wrote in a previous emailed statement. “The Ellis County [District Attorney]’s Office has reviewed video of the traffic stop and arrest, and the department is working to release the video to the public as soon as possible.”
Merritt’s now-deleted statement said Dixon Cole “alleged that certain steps were taken to obscure video evidence and to avoid dashcam recordings.”
The attorney said over the phone Monday night that the trooper made Dixon Cole take multiple sobriety tests, including a breathalyzer, which she passed. But the trooper handcuffed Dixon Cole and told her he was taking her to jail because he “didn’t like [her] attitude,” Merritt said at the time.
The attorney had said Dixon Cole told him that the trooper forced her to sit in the front passenger seat of his cruiser instead of the back seat, telling her she could “earn her way home if she really wanted to go,” and that the trooper walked back around the car and sat in the driver’s seat next to Dixon Cole before putting his hand on her thigh and hiking up her skirt.
“Once her fiancé arrived the officer said to her, ‘Who is this?’” Merritt said Monday night. “She explained it was her fiancé. The officer said, ‘I’m going to let you talk to him.’”
Merritt said Dixon Cole had told him that when the trooper came around to open her door, he gave her an indirect, but clear warning.
“The officer said, ‘Is he armed?’ referring to Dixon Cole’s fiancé,” Merritt said Monday night. “My client said, ‘No.’ The officer said, ‘Well, he will be if you say anything, and [the gun] will be visible. Do you know what I mean?’ My client nodded in compliance that she understood what he was saying.”
When contacted on Tuesday about this allegation, before the footage was released, the Texas Department of Public Safety sent Mic the same response as on Monday: “The video shows absolutely no evidence to support the serious accusations against the trooper during the DWI arrest of the suspect.”
Merritt had said the trooper allowed Dixon Cole’s fiancé to speak with her and that the fiancé told the trooper he would follow the car on its way to the county jail, but the trooper allegedly warned the fiancé he would be arrested if he tried.
Dixon Cole’s fiancé drove a short distance up the road and waited for the trooper to head toward the county jail, Merritt said Monday night. Instead, he said, the trooper drove his cruiser behind a vacant dealership.
Hubbard’s bodycam footage doesn’t appear to show he ever drove behind a dealership.
“He told [Dixon Cole] that he knew a place where they could go and where he could get what he wanted so she did not have to go to jail,” Merritt had said. “He continued to pull at her clothes and place his hand down her shirt and up her skirt.”
Eventually, the trooper took Dixon Cole to Ellis County Jail, according to Merritt, whose original written statement said Dixon Cole’s family posted bond nearly six hours before she was released.
The attorney also had accused law enforcement of failing to properly investigate the incident in its immediate aftermath.
“A more thorough investigation would likely yield additional physical evidence within the cruiser and on the uniform of [the trooper],” Merritt’s original statement read. “By not allowing [Dixon Cole] to make an official report at the time of her complaint and denying her immediate medical treatment, [Ellis County Jail] failed their responsibility.”