GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An interaction between three men and Grand Rapids police is causing controversy.
Police body camera footage from the March 26 traffic stop shows the men were pulled over for littering then were arrested on felony charges. A lawyer for the men is calling the incident racial profiling, but the Grand Rapids Police Department chief says he expects this work from his team.
To gain more perspective on the video, News 8 reached out to a former officer who spent 36 years in law enforcement and trained other officers. James Howard, CEO of Trinity Security Services, says given the full scope of situation, he sees nothing wrong with the officers’ actions.
The intense moments were shared on social media. Some people who commented were alarmed that the incident started after someone threw a rib bone out the car window.
Howard says having all the information before making any judgements is important. It was revealed by GRPD that the stop was made during Operation: Safe Neighborhoods, which is a response to an uptick in violent crime. The department said four guns were found in the car.
“I’m for sure there was a lot of intelligence information. They (police) probably knew who these people were before they even made the stop,” Howard said. “Just doing the thing of the littering just gave them (police) a reason to stop them. So, if that’s what happened, I really don’t see anything wrong here.”
The video from police body cameras shows the officers ask for the driver’s ID and then ask that the person in the passenger seat, who threw the bone, to get out of the car. The passenger complies and is cuffed before being taken to the police cruiser. The officer then asks the driver to step out, which is when it appears he tried to run.
Officers stopped the driver and there was a struggle. During the scuffle, at least one officer starts throwing punches. Howard feels the actions may have been necessary for the officers to gain control and stay alive.
“You do see the kid reaching for the officer’s side, which is where his firearm is, so there was a tense situation there for a minute,” Howard said. “If you notice, the first gentleman, I’ll say, got out of the car, no resistance, put his hands back. They walked him back to the car, no fight, no nothing like that.”
After the driver is in cuffs, an officer is heard saying, “You are lucky you didn’t get shot” and “You are lucky you aren’t dead.”
News 8 asked Howard if he thinks the officers handled the situation appropriately, given the nation’s climate with community and police interactions.
“I would say that it’s good advice in this point and time. Let’s be realistic, if he didn’t’ think he was close to being shot, next time he might push it a little further and get shot,” Howard said.
Howard says this all could have been avoided if the driver followed commands.
“All that guy had to do was step out of the car,” Howard said. “I know why now that he didn’t want to step out of the car: he had the gun on him, he didn’t want them (police) to see it. So that tells me he’s (the driver) already planning something here because he cranked up the car again. They (police) told him to turn it off, he started it back up again. “
Howard says it’s lucky that no one involved was seriously hurt.
There is currently no investigation into the officers’ actions by the Grand Rapids Police Department.
The suspects’ lawyer says he believes the men were the targets of racial profiling and is considering filing a lawsuit.