WYOMING, MI — Police contend racial profiling was not a factor when a Black real estate agent and his client were handcuffed in a case of mistaken identity receiving national attention.
But Eric D. Brown, the agent, said he’s not convinced.
“It feels like it,” he said when asked about profiling, describing the event as “traumatizing.”
Brown was showing a house on Sharon Avenue SW on Sunday, Aug. 1 to a man and his 15-year-old son. It was mid-afternoon.
Wyoming police in five patrol cars suddenly showed up at the house, ordered the occupants out with their hands up, then handcuffed all three for a brief period. One officer had a gun drawn as other officers placed handcuffs on them.
Police said the house had been the site of an illegal entry on July 24 and that a Black man was arrested. A neighbor called Aug. 1 to report the person and his car, described as a black Mercedes, was back again and he had entered the house.
The report was incorrect.
There have been stories posted about the detainment by various media outlets, including the Washington Post and NBC News.
Wyoming police on Friday Aug. 6 responded to allegations that race, or racial profiling, played a role in the incident.
“After a thorough internal review of the actions of each of our public safety officers who responded to this incident, we have concluded race played no role in our officers’ treatment of the individuals who were briefly detained, and our officers responded appropriately. While it is unfortunate that innocent individuals were placed in handcuffs, our officers responded reasonably and according to department policy based on the information available to them at the time,” Wyoming police said in a written statement.
Police said that handcuffing is within protocol for an “emergency” incident such as the Aug. 1 call.
As soon as officers determined that Brown’s story of being a real estate agent was true, they uncuffed everyone and offered an apology. Brown was able to quickly show an officer how he used an electronic key to open a lock box.
Not everyone is buying the police explanation, at least not in its entirety.
Charlie Oppler, president of the National Association of Realtors, questioned whether race played a role.
“While, thankfully, neither Brown nor his clients were physically harmed in the incident, racial profiling – and the humiliation, indignity and trauma that comes with it – has no place in our country,” he said in a written statement.
Wyoming police released bodycam and dashcam video of the event on Friday.
In it, Brown and the client immediately tell police they are there for a house showing and that Brown is the real estate agent. Brown tells an officer to look at his Realtor’s license in his wallet and soon after uses his phone to demonstrate how the lock box works.
An officer then uncuffs Brown and can be heard saying “Sorry for the inconvenience.”
Police, in a timeline released Friday, said the three people were only detained for about five minutes or less. But both the client and the client’s son briefly sat in the back of cruisers.
Police also released the 911 call to dispatch the started the police response. In it, a woman tells a dispatcher that “last week Saturday, the police came out. There was a young Black man that was squatting in a home that was for sale. I know they came and took him away and towed his car away. Well, he’s back there again. The car is sitting out front,” she said.
She said it was a black Mercedes.
Neither of the vehicles driven by Brown or his client was a Mercedes, although one was a black Hyundai Genesis sedan. Police said it looked similar to a Mercedes.
Brown, reached late Saturday, said police did not do enough investigation before they surrounded the house and ordered him and his client out and placed them in handcuffs. He wondered why they could not “run” his license plate to figure out the car’s owner and learn it wasn’t the same as the person arrested July 24.
He said they should have checked on the whereabouts of the “squatter” and made other efforts before acting so aggressively. The incident was frightening, he said.
“I’ve never had a gun pointed at me,” Brown said.
He has talked with Wyoming Police Chief Kim Koster on the phone and may meet with her in person at some point.
Brown hopes the incident can lead to changes in how Wyoming police respond to similar calls. He thinks better communication links between officers, dispatchers and 911 callers could help.
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