The woman who called Columbus police that afternoon sounded as certain as she did scared, describing three “creepy” young men in hooded sweatshirts standing outside a vacant condominium in her Far East Side complex. One of them, she said, had a gun.
The reality was something else entirely. Columbus police say it is an example of the fine line that officers must tread on a daily basis when reacting to threats that are sometimes real but sometimes just perceived.
In the March 8 police run at the Brice Green condominiums, the three “suspects” were college students back in Columbus for spring break.
And they had Popsicles, not guns.
Families of the young men are angry that this key fact was determined only after the three were confronted by officers with guns drawn, handcuffed and forced to sit on the ground. One family has filed a complaint with Internal Affairs.
“It just infuriates me,” said Stephanie Farve, Terrell Hudson’s mother. “They were literally standing outside eating Popsicles.”
Such cases also raise the specter, rightly or wrongly, of racial profiling: Hudson, Daivon Barrow and Devon Edwards are black, and all of the police officers who responded, as well as the 911 caller, are white.
Police records show that officers closed out the call within 20 minutes, having made no charges.
Sgt. Rich Weiner, a Police Division spokesman, said details will be sorted out in the internal investigation. But he stressed that officers must act swiftly and sometimes forcefully to keep the public and themselves safe.
“Once you have everybody under control, then you start assessing the situation,” he said.
Hudson, 19, is an Urbana University student who lives at Brice Green. Barrow and Edwards, both 18, were hanging out at his house that day.
Barrow is a freshman at Ashland University; Edwards at the University of Pittsburgh. The three had played football together at Eastmoor Academy and now all play college ball. None has ever been in trouble with the law. “These are good kids,” Farve said.
The incident began shortly after 4:30 p.m., when resident Daphne Lattimer called police.
“There are three black males that are across from the street from where I live, and a black male brought out a gun when my kids were walking out to the mailbox, not threatening them, but they’re showing each other a gun,” she said in her call to 911.
Lattimer, 40, declined to talk about the case. But she described the men in detail in her call and said one had tucked the gun into his waistband.
“Now they’re eating Popsicles, walking around,” she said.
Terrell Hudson said all they had done was watch a video clip on Barrow’s cellphone.
The three saw the police arrive, he said, and in a blink they were being held at gunpoint, with officers demanding “Where’s it at?”
“My son was like, ‘Where’s what at?’??” Joi Barrow said.
Police searched the men and the area without finding a gun.
Robert Hudson, Terrell’s father, said he was stunned when he looked out a window and saw police handcuffing them.
“These cats just walked out of the house,” Mr. Hudson said. “It was no more than five minutes, and now they’re laying on the ground.”
He said he rushed outside and that the officers were full of “attitude.” He said he was threatened with arrest if he kept demanding an explanation.
“It just was ugly all around,” said Farve, who witnessed part of the scene and took pictures.
Officers must make split-second judgments on any call, including the credibility of the caller, the nature of the run and the number and physical size of the suspects, Weiner said.
“Everything hinges upon the information that we’re given,” he said.
“It’s a delicate balance,” said Nick Worner, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. He said good training and clear policies help neutralize such encounters, but they can still upset citizens.
"Why do I feel like I did something wrong even though I didn’t?’ That’s a common complaint,” he said. “It’s a blessing that this didn’t turn into an absolute tragedy, and I hope that the (Police Division’s) rules had something to do with that.”
By Theodore Decker - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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