California woman beaten after deputies pull her over for mismatched plates: suit

A woman who pulled off a road to change seats with her father so that he could drive instead of her, was knocked unconscious and arrested by two Northern California sheriff’s deputies, who then lied about the encounter to responding paramedics and on official reports, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Body cameras worn by the deputies with the Solano County Sheriff’s Office recorded them pulling guns on Nakia Porter before slamming her to the pavement while handcuffing her along a rural road in the town of Dixon on the night of Aug. 6, 2020. 

The family, including her two daughters, ages 4 and 6, and niece, 3,, had gone to Oakland to visit a fellow dance instructor and the Malanga Center to learn about African music, and they were on their way home to the Sacramento area. 

WATCH: Woman goes unconscious over mismatched license plate detention in Solano County 

Porter was jailed overnight on suspicion of resisting arrest, but never charged. She said the ordeal was confusing and dehumanizing. Porter’s father, Joe Powell, was also placed in handcuffs and briefly detained.

"I was doing my best to do everything right, giving no reason to be treated like this," said Porter, 33, who is Black. She spoke at a news conference hosted by the Council of American Islamic Relations. 

The lawsuit brought by attorney Yasin Almadani accuses the deputies of violating state and federal civil rights statutes by engaging in "unlawful seizure, assault and excessive force."

"Thankfully, the video evidence contradicted the fabricated facts," Almadani said. "So what occurred here, we believe, was a racially motivated beating and terrorizing of a Black family."

Nakia Porter (left) and father Joe Powell. Children pictured on the right. 

Solano County sheriff’s officials did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment on the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.

The lawsuit asks a judge to order a jury trial for the arresting deputies, Dalton McCampbell and Lisa McDowell, and seeks unspecified damages.

The events unfolded as Porter and her 61-year-old father were making the 100-mile drive home to Orangevale, northeast of Sacramento. Porter is a software engineer, and her father, who’s retired, worked in computer networking.

Porter, a software engineer, was behind the wheel when they stopped along an empty road in Dixon. The deputies’ squad car pulled up behind them with lights flashing. Porter already was out of the car and explained that they were just switching drivers and would be on their way, according to the court filing.

The deputies said they noticed the car had mismatched license plates — a California plate on the back of the car, and one from Maryland on the front. Porter had moved from Maryland and had simply forgotten to take the front plate of her vehicle, the complaint states. At most, the mistake is an infraction. 

"However, the deputies had called in the rear license plate to their dispatch and knew that it matched the description of the car and that there was no report of the car being stolen," the filing states.

McCampbell, who had his gun drawn, ordered Porter back to the driver’s side, and he and his partner moved to detain her, according to edited bodycam footage acquired by Almadani and provided to The Associated Press as well as to KTVU. 

Almadani acquired more than 18 minutes of raw footage through a California Public Records Act request, and edited it down to just under 10 minutes. Almadani also wrote editorial comments throughout the video, pointing out how he believed the deputies were lying. 

The deputies pushed Porter against the squad car and then to the pavement while trying to handcuff her.

"Put your hands behind your back. Get on your stomach," McCampbell shouted. He can be heard telling her if she doesn't listen, she's going to get Tased.

The footage gets very shaky, and it’s hard to see whether Porter is resisting. 

On the video at one point, however, she clearly speaks to the camera and to "anyone who is listening," to say she is not resisting as she is told to face her van and put her hands behind her back. 

She is heard saying, "I'm not resisting," and "bless me." 

Porter alleges the deputies punched her in the head and the stomach, kneeled on her back and pulled her hair. She said she passed out seconds after the deputies closed the handcuffs. The video states she was unconscious for five minutes. Deputies told paramedic when they arrived she had passed out for 20 seconds. She later showed still photos of bruise marks on her neck. 

"I think she’s out," McCampbell said on the video.

Porter, who is 5-foot-2 and 125 pounds, said she was dragged unconscious to the back of the squad car, where she came to about five minutes later.

Porter requested she be transported to a hospital, according to the lawsuit.

"Deputies McCampbell and McDowell denied the request, continuing to lie to the paramedics by minimizing the assault and the injuries they had inflicted on Ms. Porter," the court filing said.

The lawsuit accuses the deputies of lying on their arrest reports about Porter fighting them and the length of time she was unconscious. Contact information for McCampbell and McDowell could not be found.

The suit also names a superior officer who signed off on the reports.

Cedric Alexander, a police use-of-force expert, was troubled by the video. 

He wondered why the deputies seemed to rush to detain Porter and Powell without first taking actions to de-escalate the situation, especially with three young kids in the car.

"What’s concerning here is the use of force," said Alexander, a former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. "There needs to be a full investigation conducted outside of the sheriff’s department, preferably by a district attorney’s office."

KTVU's Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.