Christopher Furlong/Getty Images(GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.) — Police in Grand Rapids, Michigan, are saying they followed protocol after a video was released showing officers holding a group of unarmed black teens at gunpoint on the ground.
“Guys, get on the ground. Keep your hands out,” a Grand Rapids police officer tells a group of youths in the video. “Just follow our directions and we’ll be all right, OK?”
This March 24 exchange, which was caught on body camera, came after a report of a group of teenagers carrying a gun; however, police later learned these youths weren’t armed. A police spokesman said the officers’ actions followed protocol and displayed “professionalism … throughout the entire ordeal,” though the spokesman added that “it is unfortunate … the teens had to endure this.”
But some parents are outraged by the stop. “We can’t stop thinking of the fact that — what if one of our babies had made the wrong move?” Shawndryka Moore, whose 14-year-old son was among the teens forced to the ground, said at a community meeting with police earlier this month, according to Michigan Live. “And they wouldn’t be here with us tonight — would you be OK? Would it be proper protocol then?”
The March 24 incident happened after Grand Rapids police responded to a report of 100 teenagers fighting, but police only found about 20 or 25 youths and no fight, Grand Rapids Police Public Information Officer Terry Dixon told ABC News Tuesday.
A citizen flagged down an officer at the scene and asked the officer if the police were looking for group of teenagers with a gun, Dixon said. The citizen gave the officer a description of five or six teens; one teen allegedly dropped a revolver, picked it up and tucked it in his waistband, the citizen told police, according to Dixon. Police shared that information with other officers via radio, Dixon said.
About two blocks away from where the witness said he saw a teenager with a gun, an officer approached five boys, including some who appeared to match the descriptions given by the citizen.
The officer told the youths to get on the ground and waited for other officers to arrive, Dixon said.
Body camera footage, provided to ABC News by ABC affiliate WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids, shows a cop standing next to the driver’s door of his patrol car, using the door as a shield, and pointing his gun at a group of people.
“Guys, get on the ground. Keep your hands out,” the officer says, and some of the youths comply.
“Come over here. Keep your hands where I can see them and get on the ground,” the officer says.
While all five youths were on lying face down on the ground, one youth asked, “What did we do?”
“Just follow our directions and we’ll be all right, OK?” the officer says. “Calm down, calm down, calm down, OK. It’ll be all right.”
After other officers responded, “One by one they had each teen stand up, put their hands above their heads and walk toward the officers,” Dixon said. “Each one of them was put into the back of a police car … until the officer was able to determine there was no gun.”
Officers then called the teens’ parents and after a series of quick interviews, they discovered there was no gun and this was the wrong group of teenagers, Dixon said.
The teens were all “very cooperative” and “nothing illegal was found on any of them,” according to the incident report.
The five youths included two sets of brothers and all of the teens’ mothers came to the scene, police said. One officer said in the incident report, “I explained the situation and the reasoning as to why we proceeded the way we did to all three of the mothers.”
The mothers “were all a little shaken,” but two “seemed to understand,” the incident report said. The third mother “was very upset with police and was not willing to hear our reasoning and explanation,” the incident report said.
The officer said in the incident report that they “attempted to explain … that the boys matched the descriptions of males that allegedly had a gun” but that mother “was very upset and unwilling to listen.”
One parent, seen on body cam footage, appeared emotional talking to officers; she said, “All this stuff that goes on in this world, I worry about my kids every day. That’s why I don’t let them go nowhere.”
An officer responded to her, “He just happens to be possibly in the wrong place in the wrong time, matching the clothing these kids had, OK?”
Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky later sat with the youths and their families and showed them the video, walking them through why the officers did what they did, Dixon said. Rahinsky also apologized to the youths and their families, Dixon said.
“We were responding to credible information from a witness who said he saw a gun … the officers acted according to procedure,” Dixon said. “There was professionalism displayed throughout the entire ordeal.”
“It is unfortunate, on the flip side of this, that the teens had to endure this,” Dixon added.
On April 11, at the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting, Moore said, “We ask for something to be changed. … We don’t want this to happen to any other child.”
“The department certainly is empathetic towards the families,” Rahinsky said, according to WZZM-TV. “If that’s your teenaged son being ordered to the ground at gunpoint, I recognize the emotional response that that elicits.”
“I wish we lived in a community or a country where we don’t take guns off of young men … but we do,” Rahinsky said, WZZM-TV reported. “We take guns off of teenagers with some frequency.”
Dixon said last Friday police found themselves in a similar situation with a group of teenagers and responded the same way, and police did recover a gun. Dixon said that seven guns have been recovered from juveniles this year.
Since the incident, Rahinsky has held an “Open Office Initiative” to hear from community members, and he has scheduled another “Open Office Initiative” for this Friday.
“I know that the same level of energy and engagement that ensued after the incident on March 24 will also be directed at the issue of youth violence,” Rahinsky said in a statement. “This community and this department places the utmost importance on our most valuable resource, our youth. This Friday, April 28, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., I will once again hold open office hours. No agenda, no appointment, just collaboration.”
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