WHITEHOUSE — Police Chief Craig Shelton said Monday that his department and one of his officers have received unfair outrage following an incident that made a splash on social media.
The outrage, which Shelton called unfounded, escalated into threats of violence and even a death threat against the officer.
Officer Sean Johnson was on a motorcycle patrolling a neighborhood Friday on Maji Road when he saw a woman walking on the wrong side of the road and away from a pickup sitting in a ditch facing traffic.
Noticing that no one was in the pickup, Johnson wanted to know if the woman was connected to the truck, so he decided to speak to her.
However, before Johnson could say a word, the woman, identified as Melissa Bonnette, said, “What’s up?”
Johnson replied, “How are you?”
She replied, “Fine.”
Johnson then asked, “You live around here?”
She stammered “Uh,” and then started running.
Johnson followed her and repeatedly told her he wanted to talk.
But she continued running and then made a phone call to someone, saying, “Bobby, the police are chasing me.”
Johnson asked her, “Do you really want to go to jail for not stopping?”
Johnson, as shown in a video of the incident, was in constant communication with Smith County Sheriff’s dispatch, which dispatches the department’s calls.
Johnson told dispatch he had someone running from him, and dispatch sent additional units, including a Department of Public Safety trooper to the area.
“At this time, my officer didn’t know if this woman was wanted, if she was a lookout for a burglary or if she had drugs on her,” Shelton said. “All he knew is she ran, and in my experience, someone with nothing to hide does not run from the police.”
Johnson finally caught up with Mrs. Bonnette and grabbed her arm.
She struggled, and Johnson told her twice to stop resisting, but she continued to pull away.
Johnson then put her on the ground, put her in handcuffs and asked why she ran from him.
Mrs. Bonnette explained that she thought the officer might be a bad cop out to kidnap or hurt her.
She went on to tell officers that she is a former teacher, a Christian and teaches Bible studies in the neighborhood.
Shelton said the neighborhood where the incident occurred has seen 78 police calls since February 2013, including cases of drugs, burglaries, thefts, assaults and family violence.
“Officer Johnson was patrolling that neighborhood because of the problems in it,” Shelton said. “He was justified in his trying to contact her and in the actions that followed. She should have not run from him.”
Mrs. Bonnette told officers while being interviewed at the Whitehouse Police Department Friday that she understood why officers restrained her and took her into custody.
However, moments after her release, she contacted local media to tell her story, claiming she was accosted for no reason.
Whitehouse City Manager Kevin Huckabee said he saw the video and stands behind the department and Johnson.
Johnson “couldn’t have done his job any better,” he said.
Both men said they hope the video will help ease the criticism of Johnson and the department on social media sites.
“Many times you do not get the whole story on social media. This is one example of a story only presented from one side and people rushing to judgment over the one side that was shown,” Tyler Morning Telegraph Editor Dave Berry said Monday after seeing the video.
The newspaper contacted Mrs. Bonnette on Monday, and she said she decided not to do any additional interviews.
“I’m so sorry, but my husband and I have talked about this today, and because of the traumatic experience I had, we have decided to not do any more interviews,” she said.
When asked if she would change her story after the video had been released by police for everyone to view, she said, “I don’t have to see the video. I was there.”
And then she promptly hung up.
Mrs. Bonnette could have been charged with evading arrest on foot and resisting arrest, but Shelton said he made the decision not to file charges due to the backlash from the case.