NILES, Mich. (WOOD) - LaRue Ford, a former social worker locked up for swearing in a court clerk's office, said she thought court workers were joking when they ordered her before the judge.
"I thought it was a joke," the 49-year-old woman told 24 Hour News 8 in a phone interview from the Berrien County Jail, where she has been locked up for nine days.
"I thought I was on a hidden camera. I really thought it was a joke. I just didn't believe what was happening to me."
Then, she was taken to the jail in St. Joseph and strip-searched, she said.
"It was disgraceful, embarrassment, and they make you feel like I was a criminal," said Ford, who has no criminal record. "They were judging me before they even know me."
Ford is charged with contempt of court, a misdemeanor, for what records call: "profanity in the clerk's office" in Niles.
She is claiming racism. She is black; the judge is white.
"I think it's because the color of my skin," she said.
John Targowski, an attorney working with the ACLU, met with LaRue Thursday in jail. He said he hoped to file a motion on Friday to ask that the case be dismissed. LaRue said she is hoping the case is assigned to a different judge.
The NAACP of Kalamazoo says it also will fight for her freedom -- and may ask the state NAACP office to help investigate Ford's claim of racism.
"Why her?" asked Carey Whitfield, of the NAACP Kalamazoo office. "I need to understand why he chose her. It's a matter of us determining whether or not this was a racial intent."
Whitfield was one of two NAACP members who sat in on Ford's most recent court hearing on Dec. 18. The
other was retired Kalamazoo police detective Roy Spencer.
"They don't lynch people like they used to, but there's other things you can do to people that feels like
they got lynched," Spencer said. "She's more like a high-tech lynching."
Court officials said Judge Dennis Wiley , who ordered the arrest, would not comment on a pending case.
Ford said she won't plead guilty. "Because I'm not guilty. I didn't do anything wrong."
She said she grew frustrated after spending weeks trying to clear up an old traffic ticket in Berrien County District Court in Niles. The ticket was keeping her from getting a license to drive a truck in Indiana, she said.
She said she paid $455, including $10 to expedite the process, but that Indiana told her it still wasn't
Then, on Dec. 4, she said, she drove three hours to the courthouse in Niles.
"She didn't want to help me," she said of a court clerk. "She was nasty to me."
Finally, she said, a clerk supervisor discovered the problem: a $50 reinstatement fee. The clerks, she said,
refused to apply the $10 fee she had paid to expedite the case.
"I was actually leaving out of the clerk's office, and I was muttering to myself, not towards anyone, and I
guess they overheard what I said," Ford said.
When she returned to pay the $50, she was ordered into court, where Judge Wiley charged her with contempt.
She was released the next day on 10% of a $5,000 bond, but then was ordered back to jail on Dec. 18. Her attorneys say it's because she doesn't have a permanent address.
Instead of spending Christmas with family, she spent it in jail.
"I can't even describe it," she said. "It was the worst Christmas ever. I can't even describe it how alone I felt. I would have never dreamed of being in a cell, a cold cell. It was a very sad time for me."
Still, she said, she believes justice will prevail.
"I believe in justice. Justice and God will prevail," she said.
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