From the Back of the Bus to the Back of a Police Car

Khaliah Fitchette and cellphone: Khaliah Fitchette and cellphone

By the time her junior year rolled around, Khaliah Fitchette had already planted the seeds to a promising future.

The Newark teenager was the junior class president at University High School and an honor roll student who was already thinking about college.

But her dreams nearly shattered after Newark Police yanked her off a public bus on March 22, 2010 and illegally handcuffed and detained her for filming them on a bus.

Khaliah was going to downtown Newark with friends on a New Jersey Transit bus after school. When the bus rolled down a hill, a man fell from his seat and into the aisle, creating a scene. The driver pulled over and called Newark Police for assistance, and Khaliah, who began recording the incident on her cellphone. When two officers boarded, one officer ordered Khaliah to turn off her phone to prevent any videos from appearing online. Khaliah refused; she didn't want to miss any incoming calls.

That wasn't good enough. The officer grabbed Khaliah by the arm and pulled her off the bus.

They handcuffed her and deleted the video from her cellphone, ignoring her pleas to call her mother. They took her to a juvenile detention facility, where they tried to charge her with obstructing justice. With her backpack and identification still on the bus, she couldn't prove that she was a minor, so the police threatened to charge her as an adult.

Khaliah began to cry and begged again to see her mother.

"I was scared. I was a junior and about to apply to college. I didn't want a criminal record that I didn't deserve to hold me back from applying,"she said.

When the officers realized they couldn't charge her with anything, they brought her to her mother's workplace. Initially Kameelah Phillips was angry at her daughter because the police misled her about what happened. But when she realized her daughter was mistreated and her constitutional rights were violated, she decided to take action so that no one else would go through what her daughter went through.

Almost a year after the ordeal, she sued the Newark Police Department.

"This shouldn't be happening, period," Kameelah said. "The police should be re-trained to deal with the more serious issues the city is facing. They picked the wrong fight."

Khaliah meanwhile still has her sights on the future. The high school senior just got accepted to Cornell University and is considering a career in law.

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