Justice for Bria Roberson-Gresham

Parish: East Baton Rouge

Police Department: East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office

My name is Bria Roberson-Gresham. I am from New Orleans, Louisiana, and I grew up in Baton Rouge. My husband and I have been married for five years and together for eight. I am a very spiritual person, love to read, and have notebooks of poetry that I hope to someday publish. I’ve always wanted to be a photographer. My dad gave me a camera before he passed away, and I hope to put it to use soon. It has been almost two years since the robbery, but I still don’t get out much. It is uncomfortable for me to go outside—the man who robbed me is still out there.

In the fall of 2019, I was robbed while walking to the bank to deposit money. Before the robbery, I started my opening shift at the store I worked at. It was a normal work morning, except it was storming and the general manager was in, even though she was scheduled off. Each morning, I walk over to the bank across the street. That morning, due to the storm, I asked the general manager if she could drive me over. She wouldn’t, which seemed strange considering the heavy rain. I geared up to leave at my usual time, around 8:50am. I looked outside and waited for the rain to slow down before I walked across the street. Before crossing, I saw a man, dressed in all black, standing under the building next to the bank. I figured he was waiting for the rain to slow down like me. Once the rain and traffic slowed, I walked across the street. The man started walking towards me. It looked like he was in uniform with his black clothing, black shoes, and black hoodie.

Expecting him to walk past, the man stopped abruptly right in front of me. He put his hands on my bag and said “Well, you might as well go ahead and give it up.” I quickly let go—I knew I couldn’t defend myself against a man, let alone a man who looked over 6’3. He took the bag and continued walking. I crossed the street and returned to the store to call the police. They arrived and asked me what happened—the conversation was notably short. The detective on my case gave me his card and said he would reach out if needed. He never ended up calling. A few days later, police officers arrived at my door to detain me and my husband.

The officers first arrived at my mother-in-law’s home with a no-knock warrant and kicked in her front door. Once the officers realized that we weren’t there, my mother-in-law gave them our contact information. When the officers arrived at our home, they refused to explain why they were detaining us. I was restrained and dragged outside, without undergarments, encountering members of the SWAT team pointing their guns at me. This was the first time I’ve ever had an interaction like this with the police. I told officers that the restraints on my ankles hurt, but they remained tight even during the interrogation. The officers took us down to the station and I was finally informed of the reason for my detainment: they thought I helped with the robbery because I was “too calm” right after I was robbed, and I no longer worked at the store. Little to the police department’s knowledge, after I was robbed, I had to work the entirety of that shift. Not only that, but I was also relieved of my management duties because I needed some time away from the job—only a day or two—to recover. When I requested the time off, the general manager said that I might as well turn in my key and I was fired.

The police officers arrested my husband for the robbery, even though he was working as line cook from 6:00am to 1:00pm on the day I was robbed. The store was later robbed several more times. For the second robbery, the general manager accused my husband of robbing her, despite evidence that he was on a bus when it occurred. During later robberies, my husband was already in police custody. After we submitted affidavits showing that my husband could not have committed either of the robberies, he remained in police custody. After we provided affidavits, the amount required for his bond dropped from $75,000 to $25,000. They held him in prison for thirty days before he came home on bond.

My traumatic life experiences, including the robbery and detainment, all contribute to my present anxiety and discomfort. This is the first time I decided to report something that has happened to me. I have been raped, multiple times. After being a victim of robbery, I was fired from my job, forced to collect unemployment for the first time, detained by the police, and separated from my husband for weeks while he was wrongfully jailed. Because of the condition of my mother-in-law’s door, she was evicted and shared a bed with me in my one-bedroom apartment. My husband and I have spent years of our lives growing and changing together, so being apart was difficult. Although this was the hardest time of my life, these hardships strengthened my relationship with God and helped me realize that I have a lot of fight left in me.

Now, my husband is back home, and life is getting better. I have a new job, we got a car, and we recently adopted a six-month-old puppy. I am about to take my state test to get my CNA license and I plan to go back to LPN school. My older sister is in LPN school now, and I want to follow in her footsteps. I hope to help make generational changes in my family for my nieces, nephews, and future children. My husband, while doing the best he can, is experiencing his own hardships. Every few months, he sits in front of a judge and is reminded of the uncertainty of the future. He has kids of his own and recognizes the effect a conviction can have on his life and family. I try to stay strong for him.

I decided to share my story with the ACLU because I wanted to be more vocal about what happened to me. I am doing everything I can to bring awareness to my case, and I am putting my faith in God for the rest. I try to heal and better myself by meditating, writing, interacting with customers at work, and practicing my spirituality. I heal best by expressing myself. Being raped tore me down but the robbery and detainment helped me find my voice. I am a 27-year-old woman and I want to move on with my life. I am tired of being forgiving, let down, and scared. Yes, I am still scared— it is scary for me to take my story public. But I know I need to keep fighting and telling my story. I am tired of being anonymous about what has happened to me.

As a victim, it is difficult to heal on your own. The justice system needs to do a better job for victims by listening to their stories, making sure they feel heard, and providing resources to help with their healing processes. Instead of protecting me as a victim, the justice system mislabeled me and my husband as suspects. Two years later, I am still reluctant to leave my house alone and I am paranoid when I do leave. I am a victim, not a suspect. The criminal justice system has so far failed to protect me, resolve my case, or help with my healing process. I will continue to do everything I can to tell my story, and I put my faith in God for the rest. For those of you going through similar experiences, I want to remind you to not give up—there is always a storm before the calm. The truth always comes.

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