Julia Carroll was sitting in the driver’s seat of her vehicle in Ozark, Alabama on Wednesday, just minutes after delivering an emotional plea to the board not to move all LGBTQ+ books to the adult section, under threat of losing funding by Mayor Mark Blankenship.
Carroll, who is bisexual, told the board and the packed meeting room that she is gay, and has known it since she was a second-grade student there in Ozark. After coming out in high school, Caroll said her friends called her homophobic slurs, and she was abandoned by her childhood church. Feeling unwelcome in her hometown, she left—but is now back and wants to see her hometown provide a more welcoming environment for people like her.
So when “a strange man” approached her and began “speaking to me in a manner aggressive enough to catch the eye of onlookers,” she was unsurprisingly on edge.
“My nervous system was shot already from having stood listening to four hours worth of intense testimony,” Carroll told APR. “The statistics of queer youth suicide had made me cry and then constant negative references to the gay community left me very disheartened.”
According to Carroll, the man said something along the lines of “Y’all are hypocrites over here talking about people when that’s the thing you’re in there asking them not to do.”
According to Eric Braswell, Caroll’s boyfriend, a minute earlier she had noticed a woman walking by in the parking lot, who had been made to sit down after calling LGBTQ people “an abomination” at the microphone.
“That’s the lady who called all of us an abomination,” Carroll told Braswell at a normal voice level. Then she raised her voice loud enough to be heard with her window down “Her f**king outfit’s an abomination.”
Braswell told APR that comment made the woman and a man who was with her turn their head, but they simply got in their vehicle and drove away. He said the woman was in a separate parking lot row already when the comment was made.
After that comment, the couple continued talking, with Braswell leaning in the window as he said he had ridden in a separate vehicle, and they were discussing where to get lunch before returning to work.
That’s when the man approached, with Braswell saying the man put his hand in their faces and touched the vehicle.
“That’s when I cut him off and told him to stop talking to me and get away from my vehicle,” Carroll said. “He then said, ‘I will not. I’m paid to be here. I’m state police. I don’t have to walk away.’ This I remember very clearly.”
Carroll said she questioned internally whether the man might be lying, off duty, or why he was undercover at the event. Braswell said he didn’t necessarily question whether the man was being truthful, but said if he was state police, the man “didn’t approach it the right way.”
“We thought he was a random dude,” Braswell said. “From there I turned around and started talking to him. I told him ‘We get that, they left, the situation’s over. Can you back away from us? Because we don’t know who you are and we’re trying to leave.’”
Instead of leaving, Braswell said the man continued to repeat that he did not have to leave because he was state police.
Ozark resident Brittany Galland started filming once it became apparent the man was not leaving. She later asked the man to identify himself as law enforcement, and he lifted his shirt to show a badge, and pistol, on his hip.
Galland said at first she didn’t think anything of the man approaching the couple, until she noticed his “tense posture.”
“And the look on Eric’s face,” Galland said. “He got like a kind of WTF face on.”
Carroll posted about her experience in the Ozark-Dale Library Alliance Facebook group, and Galland supplied the video. In the video, the man can be seen asking “Are you going to leave?” to Braswell, followed by “then get in the car, and leave.”
Braswell tells the man “you’re being a child” and then informs him that he is in a different car, and Carroll attempts to get out.
She told APR she wanted to get out of the vehicle because she had a 1-year-old child inside and wanted to “let the window up, crank up the AC, and leave her with peaceful music—safe and none the wiser that our car was being surrounded by police officers.”
The video shows multiple officers around the vehicle including one Dale County sheriff’s deputy.
“If you get at and come at me, you’re making a mistake,” the undercover/off-duty officer tells Carroll, while a deputy attempts to keep the door closed and Braswell also attempts to keep Carroll from opening the door, telling APR he was trying to “not make things worse.”
Meanwhile, the deputy calmly asks Carroll to stay in the car, and tells her he just walked up and doesn’t know what’s going on.
Throughout much of the video, it is hard to hear much dialogue due to a sound that is presumably the engine of Galland’s vehicle running and because multiple conversations are happening at once. Braswell is speaking to the undercover officer; Carroll is talking to the deputy. However, it is apparent at one point in the video that the deputy tells Carroll he “doesn’t want to” but may have to detain her.
At another point in the video, with Carroll now out of the car, the undercover officer says he is not “on either side of this.”
“Look, you might not like me because I’m law enforcement, but I don’t know you,” the man says. “If those people that you yelled at, or made a comment about abomination or whatever, had said the same thing to you, I would have said the same thing to them. This isn’t about where books should go; this isn’t about sexual orientation—I don’t care who you do, who they do—All I know is I’m paid by the state of Alabama where everybody’s safe.”
Carroll pushes back against the officer, telling him that all they were doing was telling a man they didn’t know was a police officer to get away from their vehicle.
“If you’re out here, obstructing what I’m trying to do, you’re going to wind up going to jail … “
“Going to jail for saying ‘Leave me alone and get away from my vehicle?” Carroll asks.
“This man approached me out of nowhere and I had no way of knowing he was a police officer,” Carroll told the surrounding officers.
“He damn sure did, I watched it happen,” Galland can be heard saying on the video.
The officer argues that it “not on me” to walk away.
“That’s causing the issue,” Braswell said.
Braswell told APR that he felt “the whole situation is silly” as the situation that the officer came to admonish Carroll for had already been dissolved, and that the officer’s refusal to let the situation be resolved led to the tense discussion.
An Ozark police commander, whose name is lost in the audio noise, finally tells Carroll and Braswell that any officer in the State of Alabama has the right to intervene when he believes he has witnessed harassment, which he emphasizes is a criminal charge. The commander de-escalates the situation by asking each side how to resolve the issue, which is simply by walking away, and all the parties leave the parking lot.