As a police officer turned Roy Thorne around to cuff his hands behind his back, the 45-year-old father saw the same happening to his 15-year-old son, reports the Washington Post.
Feelings came quickly then to Thorne, who’s Black: rage that his son was being arrested. Humiliation that the teenager had to watch his dad get handcuffed while the whole neighborhood looked on. Confusion about how viewing a house with his real estate agent on a Sunday afternoon could lead to a half-dozen police officers pointing guns at them.
But more than anything: powerlessness. Thorne could do nothing other than obey in a desperate attempt not to die.
“I just felt defeated,” he told the Washington Post. “That’s something you never want your kid to see.”
Thorne and his son were touring a home Sunday with real estate agent Eric Brown, who’s also Black, in Wyoming, Mich., when police suddenly surrounded the house with guns drawn. The officers were responding to a neighbor’s 911 call about a break-in. They ordered the three out of the house, handcuffed them and put them in separate vehicles.
Except it wasn’t a break in. Brown, 46, who has been working in the Grand Rapids area market for 20 years, had arrived at the house on Sharon Avenue SW around 2 p.m. Thorne brought his 15-year-old son, Samuel.
Thorne and Brown said they were racially profiled. If they were White, they said, neighbors wouldn’t have called the police. And if they did, some half-dozen officers would not have surrounded the place with guns drawn, the men added.
“A SWAT team is what it felt like,” Brown told the Post.
A captain with the Wyoming Police Department didn’t respond to a request for comment from The Post late Thursday but told a local TV station earlier last week that the officers’ response had nothing to do with race.
For two months, Brown has been helping Thorne find a house, and the brick two-story was the latest possibility. For about a half-hour, the two men toured the property, noting features they liked — the size of the master bedroom and front yard — and what they didn’t, like the outdated basement.
Then Samuel, who’d split off to size up his possible future bedroom, rejoined them to report police officers were outside. Thorne looked out and saw two of them armed and communicating only using hand signals. When one of them went to the back of the house, Thorne, an Army veteran, realized they were being surrounded.
He told his son and Brown to get down and stay away from the windows. Police video footage from body and dashboard cameras published earlier on Saturday by WOOD-TV shows an officer calling for the men inside to come out of the house with their hands up.
Thorne spotted an officer in the backyard and called to him several times through an open window. The officer pointed his gun at Thorne, he said, leading him to duck. He told the officer there were three of them in the house and they were coming out with their hands up. He made sure his son was behind him.
“I was scared,” Thorne said. “I was scared for my son.”
The thought that raced through Brown’s head: “We’re going to die today.”
No one did. Officers commanded them to keep their hands raised until they were cuffed and put in separate vehicles. When Thorne and Brown asked what was happening, officers told them to wait.
Brown explained he was a real estate agent on a scheduled tour. Still handcuffed, he showed them his credentials and said he had a confirmed appointment to show the home. He explained how he had used an app on his phone to access a lockbox with the house key.
That’s when officers realized the mistake and freed Thorne, Brown and his son. The police body camera footage shows officers removing the men’s handcuffs within 10 minutes of arriving at the home.
One law enforcement agent can be heard telling Thorne’s son, “Don’t worry too much about this. … I think it’s going to be a big misunderstanding.” After removing the handcuffs, police told the men that neighbors reported seeing the same black Mercedes outside the house that was there during a recent break-in. When police arrived at the house, a Chevrolet and Hyundai were parked out front.
“Somebody dropped the ball somewhere,” one of the police officers is seen on video telling a colleague. A second member of the department replies that when he pulled up, he could not see the vehicle’s license plate.
“That car is the exact same body style … [as] the car that broke in last week,” he said, comparing the Hyundai Genesis to the Mercedes previously reported at the home.
Several officers apologized, and Thorne said he thinks one was genuinely sorry. He said he saw that officer talking with the White couple who called 911. The officer returned to say he had chewed them out, apologized again and left, Thorne said.
The incident lasted about 30 minutes, but Thorne and Brown said its effects will endure well into the future. Thorne said Samuel is “paranoid” about how doing something as banal as touring a house for sale could lead to multiple officers pointing guns at him and his father.
“If you see a crime, report a crime,” Thorne said. “But if you see us just living life the same way you do, just let us do that.”