Mayor responds to GRPD video showing boys detained at gunpoint

A still image from a Grand Rapids Police Department body camera shows an officer pointing a gun at a group of boys as part of a search for an armed suspect. (March 24, 2017)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Mayor’s office is responding to newly released police body camera video showing the tense moments when Grand Rapids Police Department officers detained a group of five black boys at gunpoint as they searched for an armed suspect.

Monday, the mayor’s office sent the following response:

“The mayor is working with city leadership on a plan to review GRPD policies and procedures as part of the larger conversation around community and police relations. The review will include how GRPD responds to incidents involving youth.”

The March 24 incident has sparked calls for personal apologies from the officers involved and a possible GRPD policy change from community groups and some parents.

Video 24 Hour News 8 obtained through the Freedom of Information Act Friday shows a man describing two kids allegedly involved in a large fight– one wearing black and the other wearing red and black. The man says one of them dropped a gun. “They just walked down here not even five minutes ago,” the man said.

DETAINED AT GUNPOINT

The boys, ages 12 through 14, had left the Salvation Army Kroc Center on South Division Avenue after playing basketball and were heading home.

The video from Officer Caleb Johnson’s body camera shows a boy dribbling a basketball on the sidewalk when Johnson stops his police cruiser, opens his car door and points a gun at the boys on the city sidewalk.

“Guys, get on the ground. Keep your hands out. Hey, come over here, keep your hands where I can see them and get on the ground,” the officer says. He orders them to the ground several more times, before calling in backup. All the children are face down on the sidewalk as another police siren sounds.

One of the boys is heard wailing and crying.

Standing from his car door with gun pointed, Johnson talks to another officer about what to do next. Johnson can be heard telling the wailing child to calm down, saying it will be alright.

Johnson tells a woman to go back inside at one point. GRPD had their guns drawn at the boys for about ten minutes.

“You’ll be alright, you’ll be alright. They’re going to have you, they’ll have some directions for you in a moment, just stay put, OK?  They’ll let you know what to do,” Johnson tells one of the boys.

One of the boys can be heard saying in one of the videos,  “I don’t want to die today, bro.”

One by one, the boys eventually get up from the sidewalk with their hands on their head and march down to a police cruiser down the street.

Some of the boys didn’t match the suspect descriptions, some of them did. Officers later determined none of the children were armed.

‘I WORRY ABOUT MY KIDS EVERY DAY’

Body camera video later shows an officer talking to a woman.

“He just happens to be possible at the wrong place at the wrong time, matching the clothing these kids have,” the officer says. “OK? Like you said, your son is fine.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean no disrespect, but y’all gotta understand, that’s my baby right there,” she says.

“You have to understand our position as well. We have to investigate,” says the officer.

“Yeah, but when a mother come and just say (inaudible),” she says, starting to cry.

“The way you were acting, I couldn’t — ” the officer interjects.

“I can’t help it! That’s my baby,” the woman exclaims.

“I’m a parent as well, OK?” The officer says.

“I’m never, we don’t deal with police. I don’t never even have no charges. We don’t do this. 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,” the woman replies.

The body camera video shows the woman speaking with a boy who is presumably her son. He tells the woman he never did anything.

‘RIGHT PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME’

Another video clip shows an officer talking to two other adults at the scene.

“We’re just doing our job because a lot of people out here have guns. We’re not saying that your kids had guns, alright? But we’re just doing our job, OK?” The officer says.

“You’re said, your saying you’re not seeing they had guns but you all pulled yours,” the man replies.

“I know because we don’t know that. We do not know that,” the officer says passionately.

“Exactly… you all didn’t see a gun but y’all pulled guns on my kid,” one mother says.

“You do understand that, where we’re coming from, matching the description, we’re not just going to walk up to someone and (say) ‘Hey, do you have a gun on ya?’ You know, we’re just taking every precaution. No one got hurt in this. Everyone’s been cooperative, OK? OK?” the officer tells two adults.

“Just like y’all understand (inaudible) my side too. My kids go to the Kroc to play basketball. That’s it. Plain and simple,” a father said.

“Wrong place at the wrong time, obviously, for these kids. OK?” The officer said.

“Right place at the wrong time,” the father responded.

“I understand but there was a big fight over there,” the officer said.

“The (inaudible) right place,” the father interjected.

COMMUNITY LEADERS RESPOND

Grand Rapids Police Department Chief David Rahinsky and Mayor Rosalynn Bliss have apologized for the incident. However, Rahinsky said his officers acted professionally.

Chief Rahinsky held office hours Friday for people who wanted to speak in person about issues important to them and in reaction to a traffic report released earlier this week showing GRPD stops different races at disproportionate rates.

He told 24 Hour News 8 they’re committed to improving community relations with those they protect and serve.

“Issues are going to occur. People who have lived in comparable cities will tell you how safe we are, comparatively speaking. That being said, are there issues that need to be addressed? Yes,” he said.

Both unions representing GRPD went on the offensive a day after a heated commission meeting attended by dozens of community members outraged over the incident. Some parents called for personal apologies from the officers involved, and a change in police policy.

The union groups said there was no need for a policy change, but the leader of the urban group LINC UP said current police protocol is “causing significant damage to the relationship” between police and community members.

Chief Rahinsky said the traffic report and March 24 need to be approached as two separate issues, but wants the public to follow their response to the report’s findings.

“The results are one thing. Now I hope what we’re judged on is our response to those results. So moving forward the training, the transparency, the dialogue, the review of practice and operational protocols,” he added.