Three teens are arrested while waiting for a school bus
A mom accuses police of racial profiling
Police deny that accusation
District attorney drops the charges "in the interest of justice"
A group of teens say they were just waiting for a school bus to take them to a sports scrimmage.
But the three high school students from Rochester, New York, soon found themselves inside a very different kind of vehicle: a police car that took them to jail and not to the basketball court.
Their arrests last month drew sharp criticism from their coach and school officials. One mother accused the police officer of racial profiling.
“I think he seen a group of young black men and kind of stereotyped them for loitering, looking for trouble,” mom Tynicia Weathers told CNN affiliate WROC.
A police report accuses the students of obstructing pedestrian traffic on a public sidewalk and blocking a store entrance.
Prosecutors dropped the disorderly conduct charges against them last week.
“After reviewing the facts associated with these arrests, I have decided to dismiss the charges in the interest of justice,” Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley said in a written statement.
Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard said based on the incident reports he has seen, police were justified in making the arrest. He denied accusations that racial profiling played a role.
“During the course of a policeman’s day, they are going to make a number of arrests and some of those arrests are going to be dismissed,” he said. “An ‘interest of justice’ does not indicate that the arrest was improper, doesn’t indicate that officer was erroneous in his determinations. It just means that prosecution has made a determination that they are not going to go forward.”
There are different accounts about what happened the day the teens were arrested, depending whom you ask.
Wan’Tauhjs Weathers, 17, said the police officer approached them outside a store.
“He told us. … ‘Ya’ll gotta move. Ya’ll can’t stand here.’ We tried to inform him that we weren’t waiting for the city bus. We were catching the yellow bus to go to our scrimmage,” Weathers said. “He told us he didn’t care and he told us to move. And as soon as we start moving, he started arresting us.”
Daequon Carelock, 16, said he tried to tell the police officer they were waiting at the spot where their coach told them to stay.
“He could have went to the store clerk and (asked) like, ‘Are these kids bothering you? Are they harassing the people that are coming in the store?’” Carelock said. “He didn’t do none of that. He just came up to us and accused us.”
A police report says the officer “gave several lawful, clear and concise orders for the group to disperse and leave the area without compliance.”
Jacob Scott, varsity basketball coach at Edison Tech High School, said he was shocked to see what was happening when he arrived to join his team at the spot where they regularly wait for the bus.
“I just kind of repeated myself: ‘Listen, these guys, I don’t think these guys should be getting arrested. They are just here to catch the bus.’ I asked them, ‘Can you give me an explanation as to why they are getting arrested?’ He just kept telling me, ‘They didn’t disperse. We’re taking them downtown.’ So at that time, I’m puzzled.
“Next thing I know, he says, ‘If you don’t disperse from here in the next few seconds, we’re going to take you downtown as well.’ “
Sheppard said the teens were 100 yards away from the bus stop where they were supposed to wait.
An incident report released by police said an officer warned the large group of teens to move multiple times after seeing customers leaving the store had to walk through the group to get out.
Scott said it seems like police made assumptions in a downtown area where people have complained about loitering and altercations in the past.
The students say the officer assumed they were a group of males who could cause trouble.
“Basically because the way we look,” Carelock said. “We all have coats on. We all standing around each other, grouped up, so I guess he just accused us of like, causing trouble. … So I just feel like he just judged us way too quickly. … He didn’t even say ‘Why are ya’ll here? He said, ‘Move.’”
With the charges dropped, Carelock said he feels like they’ve had a weight lifted from their shoulders.
“Now we can just stay focused on our grades, class and basketball,” he said.
Scott said questions about the incident still linger.
“I am extremely happy for the guys, the parents, but it’s still a stain,” he said. “You still get arrested. You’re handcuffed and have to go downtown. You’re detained. Your parents have to come up with the money the day before a holiday, last minute. Teammates have to see their teammates get arrested for reasons they still question me about.”
The police chief said that as far as he’s concerned, the case is closed.
“If I thought it was a matter of us racially profiling, if I thought it was a matter of us picking on some youth that were doing nothing, then I will handle it in that manner. But the circumstances are, all day long we have officers. That particular officer is assigned at a foot post. So it isn’t that he jumped out of the car and grabbed three individuals and said, ‘You’re going to jail.’
“This is an officer (who is) day to day dealing with students. Based on their action … he made an arrest. I’m not going to say he couldn’t have done anything different, I acknowledge that he could have done something different,” Sheppard said. “But I don’t think it rises to the level that I would do an internal investigation and find that he was inappropriate. “
CNN’s Jason Carroll and Brian Vitagliano reported from Rochester. CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet reported from Atlanta.