Best known for her roles in the 1980s classic sitcom Punky Brewster and the 1990s hit show Family Matters, actress Cherie Johnson comes from a family of police officers. Johnson says, "My aunt is a state trooper, my uncle is a cop and so is my brother. I was even engaged to a cop at one point." So her view of officers was always a pleasant one.
After what she and her boyfriend, actor Dennis White, allege they experienced in South Carolina on September 22, that view may have forever changed. On the morning of September 28th, almost a week after the incident, Johnson and Lewis shared their story on social media, in an unverified CNN iReport, and with Examiner.com. Johnson also forwarded to Examiner a complaining statement she says she sent to the Marion County, South Carolina Sheriff's Office.
According to both Johnson and White, who is best known for his roles in Notorious and The Closer, they were stopped twice in South Carolina as they headed to Myrtle Beach for a romantic getaway. The two were visiting White's hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina to teach acting classes as part of their traveling coaching business.
The first stop happened in Latta, South Carolina, where according to Johnson, White was cited for going 40 in a 35 mph zone (25 mph zone according to White) . Johnson, in a statement provided to Examiner, alleges that the officer who stopped them in Latta warned them to be mindful that the police presence would grow as they neared Myrtle Beach:
We just thought the cop meant to slow down. Ten minutes later while we [were] driving down Gallivant Ferry, I noticed cotton fields. I got excited because I have never seen cotton before. I was in amazement because of my family history and the lineage with cotton. Dennis pulled the car over so that I could take a picture.
Right after he snapped the picture a police car pulled up behind our rent a car with the lights flashing. I walked up to the police car and said, “Hi sir I just wanted to take a picture with cotton I have never seen it before.”
“Go have a seat in the car” the police officer told me.
That's when Johnson and White allege things went from bad to worse in the second stop. The two claim the officer, identified as S. Barfield, told Johnson she had a pending warrant, after being denied access to search the rental car they were driving. Allegedly, he retracted the statement. Johnson says White was at one point handcuffed and she later would be as well. According to Johnson, White pleaded with Officer S. Barfield to not cuff her, but his pleas were denied.
According to Johnson, another officer, identified as Officer Dibbs arrived and witnessed she and White in cuffs. Johnson describes what happened:
“Sir please [don’t] cuff her, just leave me cuffed.” Dennis said.
My heart broke as I could see the sadness in his eyes.
“I’m sorry baby I just wanted to see the cotton.” I told him.
At this time another officer was approaching.
“How do you do?” said Officer Dibbs.
“Not very well sir, I have never been handcuffed a day in my life,” I said.
“It will be alright,” Officer Dibbs said.
White and Johnson claim that Officer S. Barfield's alleged harassment continued, once insisting that a tea bag was marijuana. When questioned as to why they were cuffed, Johnson claims that the officer threatened to charge her with petty larceny for taking the cotton she held in her picture. Johnson said after the incident White wanted to go to the police department to lodge a complaint but she begged him not to out of fear.
Johnson says she contacted her attorney who encouraged her to file a complaint after she returned back to California. Johnson says she has since spoken with a lieutenant in the police department of Marion County, South Carolina, but there was no incident report filed, although they were given a warning citation. The lieutenant informed Johnson that he was investigating and would review any video or recording of the stop.
Examiner contacted the Sheriff of Marion County via email this morning and the Sheriff's office via phone, however the Marion County dispatcher informed Examiner that no one would be available to speak until Monday when the office reopens.