The mayor of Grand Rapids, Michigan is promising an investigation into police practices after video emerged showing an officer detaining five unarmed teens at gunpoint.
But the Grand Rapids Police Department (GPRD) is defending the actions of their officer, saying his conduct was appropriate for the situation.
“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,” reads the statement from Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. “The review will include how GRPD responds to incidents involving youth.”
Police were investigating reports of a large fight on March 24 at the Salvation Army Kroc Center when someone told one of the responding officers that he had seen a group of teens leaving the scene of the fight a short while ago – and that one of them was carrying a handgun.
At the same time, a group of five boys, aged 12 to 14, were walking home after playing basketball. Grand Rapids Police officer Caleb Johnson made the decision to detain them, believing they matched the description of the teen he had been given.
His body camera captured the tense exchange that followed as Johnson pulled over, used the door of his cruiser as a shield, and drew his service pistol.
“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,” Johnson orders the teens at gunpoint before calling for backup.
“What did we do?” one of the boys asks.
“I do not want to die, bro,” another adds a short time later.
“Just follow our directions and we’ll be all right, OK?” Officer Johnson can be heard saying. “Calm down, calm down, calm down, OK? It’ll be all right.”
A short time later other officers arrive on scene. One by one, the boys are asked to stand, hands raised, and walk towards police. For around ten minutes, Officer Johnson keeps his weapon trained on the prone youths.
After searching the teens, it was determined none of the teens were carrying a weapon. Video of the incident was released by the Grand Rapids Police Department following a Freedom of Information request by local media.
The incident has sparked a degree of outrage in the local community. At a Grand Rapids City Commission meeting on April 11, the mothers of the five boys spoke out in front of the hundreds of people gathered in the council chambers.
“We can’t stop thinking of the fact that — what if one of our babies had made the wrong move?” Moore said at a Grand Rapids City Commission meeting 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?”
But the Grand Rapids Police Department is defending their officer’s decision to detain the teens, saying he was responding to a credible tip in a potentially dangerous situation.
“We were responding to credible information from a witness who said he saw a gun,” Grand Rapids Police Public Information Officer Terry Dixon told ABC News. “The officers acted according to procedure. There was professionalism displayed throughout the entire ordeal.”
“It is unfortunate, on the flip side of this, that the teens had to endure this.”
“No community can be safe and be effective for all people without strong relationships between both the police and the community and that’s what we really want to make sure happens from this incident,” LINC UP Executive Director Jeremy DeRoo told 24 Hour News 8.
Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky plans to continue to hold an open dialogue with members of the community, promising to hold open office hours Friday afternoon for any and all who may have concerns about police conduct.
“No agenda, no appointment, just collaboration,” Chief Rahinsky promised.