Two mothers say uniformed U.S. Secret Service officers held them at gunpoint and separated them from their infant children for almost an hour last week.
India Johnson and Yasmeen Winston decided to take their infant sons to the World War II Memorial to splash around in the fountain July 30.
Johnson parked her car on Constitution Avenue near the White House, and the two prepared to walk to the memorial, but they never made it.
"We’re trying to get them ready and all we know is we get hit on the driver’s side and, like we keep telling the story, we look up and it’s a Secret Service agent literally right on my front bumper with a rifle pointed at us," Johnson said.
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The Secret Service says the contact was incidental.
The women say they were ordered out of the car at gunpoint, put in handcuffs and separated from their sons, who were left in the back seat for almost 45 minutes.
"I don’t want to be an innocent Black woman that has no record and getting shot out in the street with my kids in the back seat, so it was definitely terrifying," Winston said.
The Secret Service says a Metropolitan Police Department license plate reader identified Johnson’s car as being connected to several felonies in Virginia with a driver designated as armed and dangerous.
The women say officers told them the vehicle was reported stolen and the suspects were two Black men.
But the car is registered to Johnson, and she didn’t report it stolen.
After proving their innocence, the women were released.
In a statement, the Secret Service said the women’s characterization of the events is misleading and in some instances false. The agency did not provide specifics.
"What wasn’t true?" asks attorney Timothy Maloney, who is representing Johnson and Winston. "Are they saying they didn’t point rifles at these women?"
He wants an investigation and says the current climate demands it.
"This happened in the shadow of the Capitol right there on Constitution Avenue near the Mall where there had been protests all summer about police misconduct," he said. "It seems like the Secret Service really hasn’t learned anything from the events of the last eight weeks in our country."
Johnson and Winston said they are still shaken up, but they’ve vowed to keep fighting.
"I feel like we’re still here to help with this movement, to keep pushing the narrative along," Johnson said.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton sent a letter to the Secret Service saying an incident like this must not be tolerated. She asked for a response by next week.