Police officers in Grand Rapids, Michigan, were criticized because two young black boys were stopped by officers on August 26, and handcuffed at gunpoint. Grand Rapids' police chief David Rahinsky defended the officer’s actions when video of the arrest was released later in the week.
"What you see in the video is the officers quickly de-escalating the situation," Rahinsky said. "As the (youth) policy states, the officers used the most reasonable and least restrictive measures consistent with public safety.”
He went on to say, "When the allegation is someone has a firearm, the response has to be appropriate. Once officers learned that's not the case, the youths are un-handcuffed within a minute, their grandfather is contacted, and I think the conversation that ensures shows the officer's compassion in explaining what happened and why."
Shortly after 8 p.m. on August 26, police received a report that a group of at least two black males aged approximately 13 were walking in a neighborhood and appeared to be armed with a handgun. One of the boys was described as wearing a red shirt and the other one was wearing a black shirt, police said.
Separately, about a half mile away from that area, police saw three black males: 11-year-old twin brothers Martrell and Martrez Coston, and a 17-year-old male walking. One was wearing a red shirt, and another a black shirt.
A video shows that one officer drew his weapon and ordered the trio to stand with their backs to him and their hands on their head. Other officers showed up with minutes. Officers then asked the boys to walk backwards toward the police, where they were handcuffed and searched for weapons. "Dude, you've got to listen and keep your hands on top of your head, alright?" one officer shouts. At least six police cars can be seen in the video. One officer was wielding a Taser, while two other officers had their pistols at the ready while the boys are being searched.
The 17-year-old was searched first and placed in the back of a police car. Police chief Rahinsky said the teen had a criminal history. Police wanted to ascertain whether there were any outstanding warrants against him. He was later released at the scene, despite being uncooperative and kicking a window from inside the vehicle, according to police.
The second boy was ordered to approach the police, and then handcuffed, and searched. After about a minute, the handcuffs were removed by police. He was placed in the vehicle while police searched the third boy.
"Are we going to jail," the boy asked. "I'm not saying that at all, man. My partner explained it to you," an officer said. While the third boy was cuffed and searched, police explained the reason for the stop. He was also uncuffed within a minute.
"What's going on is someone called and said a black male subject about 13 years old, wearing red and walking with a black male with a black shirt had a gun in his hand," police said. "Were just going to get you patted down to make sure you don't have any guns on you; you don't have any guns on you, do you? We're going to do that and then we're just going to get you out of those. It's just for your safety."
No guns were found on the juveniles.
"You're not in any trouble, you understand that, right?" an officer said to the weeping boy. "We didn't want to upset you. The main thing is to make sure you guys are safe, everyone else is safe and that we're safe. Do you have any questions for us? I know it's a scary situation but we want to make sure you guys are OK as well, alright?"
Police released the 11-year-old boys to their grandfather, and called their mother to explain the situation. The three boys had been walking to a nearby pizzeria.
The Grand Rapids police department is conducting an Internal Affairs Unit review at the request of Juanita Ligo -- the twins’ mother. Ligon claims that her twins were the victims of racial profiling and argues that officers did not have an adequate description before stopping her sons. She said that at least one of the suspects was wearing jeans, and her boys were in shorts.
Rahinsky said he understands Ligon’s concerns, but said officers followed protocol while investigating and then de-escalating a "high risk" and "very dynamic situation." In March, the department put into place a youth interaction policy in response to a pair of 2017 incidents.
Juanita Ligon is the mother of five children, including twin boys Martrell and Martrez Coston. She wants the officers involved in stopping her sons arrested. Ligon said that officers told her they believed that the 13 year old suspect in question actually had a BB gun. Claiming that police used excessive force, Ligon said her sons were “traumatized” by the experience and that she plans to put them in counseling.
Police in Grand Rapids, MI drew their guns& handcuffed two 11-year-old Black kids as they were searching for an adult. You can see them sobbing & fearing for their life.— Together we rise 🙌🏾 (@Matsamon) September 2, 2018
It makes me feel sick to my stomach. There is no justification to handcuff kids at gunpoint!!
Please RETWEET pic.twitter.com/A44q1Jqk57