Man claiming racial profiling and local police at impasse over incident
“I hope the people of Stevens Point can co-exist without the racial tension and biased views this situation may have caused, but also I have hopes this could be a learning opportunity for all of us to love our neighbors, friends, community, and the people who are sworn to protect it.” – Deandre Pettiford-Bates
By Joe Bachman
STEVENS POINT — Local law enforcement may or may not have racially profiled a 25-year-old local black man on Monday, depending on who you ask — however, the focus could arguably be shifted to a culture in which this discussion even exists in the first place, rather than what actually happened.
This week, local police have come under fire from many on social media for the alleged racial profiling of a man stopped during the search for an armed robbery suspect on Monday, July 23.
However, after detailed reports, including scant video surveillance, it is apparent that officers from the Portage County Sheriff’s Department, and Stevens Point Police Department may have committed no misconduct at all — but again, depending on who you ask.
“I’m gonna start this post off by saying I respect police and all that they do but tonight was complete and utter bulls***” stated the man in question, Deandre Pettiford-Bates in his initial Facebook post that sparked the social media outcry, and currently has over 950 reactions to the posting.
Questions whether or not Pettiford-Bates was stopped due the color of his skin has been a hot topic of conversation, including the legalities over whether or not police had the right to search his backpack during the stop. According to state law, officers do have the right to frisk any individual under any suspicion with probable cause, and can search a person’s bag with consent, unless otherwise stated by the suspect.
Regardless, this doesn’t take away from the notion that Pettiford-Bates may have felt violated, even if officer’s intentions were in the best interests of public safety.
“I wasn’t informed on why I was stopped, searched, and treated without respect — my feelings haven’t really changed, [since Monday] but I just wanna be the bigger person in all of this and put it to rest,” said Pettiford-Bates. “I still haven’t gotten a formal apology and I don’t think I will — but I think the bigger lesson in all of this is that there needs to be some reform or connectivity between the police and the people they protect.”
Pettiford-Bates was seen wearing a button-up shirt, while the suspect was noted as wearing a hoodie, which Pettiford-Bates pointed out. He also claims that he did not give consent for a sheriff’s deputy to search his backpack in the first place, however, no complaint has been filed yet to the department. Video surveillance doesn’t reveal much, and without audio, it truly comes down to Bates’ word versus police.
Initial descriptions had the suspect, later to be determined as 17-year-old Antonio Cruz, to have been wearing a hoodie and carrying a backpack. However, according to Portage County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Dan Kontos, a backpack and a hoodie are items that can easily be removed, and in this case, the number one priority is the public’s safety in rare situations similar to an armed robbery.
“If you’re in the area of an armed robbery, you’re going to get a second look,” said Kontos. “Everybody is going to get a second look. Everyone gets our scrutiny, and stopping and talking to someone is just good police work.”
It should be of note that county and city law enforcement are on two different radio channels with varying descriptions. While the initial description given to SPPD officers was that of a young male with a medium skin tone, deputies may have only received reports of a young male. Kontos points out that skin color can be ambiguous, and in a case of an armed robbery where public safety is in question, there would be no reason to ‘split hairs’ over such a description. Witness statements can also be notoriously inaccurate given the varied traumatic events they may have been through.
According to police reports, three other individuals were stopped that night under the same circumstances. With public safety as the number one concern, Pettiford-Bates was stopped with just that in mind.
“There should be no reason why he would think he would be singled out.” said Kontos.
The Bigger Conversation
However, this leads into a larger conversation of racial profiling across the country, as according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, African-Americans are more likely to be stopped by police than whites or Hispanics. In addition, according to data by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, while African-Americans made up approximately 13 percent of the national population in 2012, they made up nearly a third of citizens killed by police.
Luckily, these statistics have taken a dip in 2017, as that number dropped from a third, to 27 percent. In the same light, the number of officers killed in the line of duty in 2015 has dropped substantially by almost half since 2001. So far in 2018, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, that number is on pace to be even lower.
What needs to be addressed, is how both sides can come to an understanding, and appreciate a modern social climate where being pulled over or stopped by authorities as a black man or woman can create fear in that person — as well as a law enforcement profession where danger can be eminent, and sometimes fatal, at any time.
According to Assistant Police Chief Mike Rottier, an official statement by Police Chief Marty Skibba may be released in the coming days regarding the matter.
Can this be a teaching moment?
Pettiford-Bates met with Mayor Mike Wiza on Thursday in efforts to come to an understanding on just what happened on early Monday morning.
“The mayor is a great guy, and he definitely tried to reassure me that race had nothing to do with why I was stopped,” said Pettiford-Bates, “…but I think there’s a problem when I couldn’t tell you a single officer’s name, or that even when I did nothing wrong, I’m still afraid of the people and what they are capable of doing.”
Wiza released a statement on Friday morning to the media, which is a message of just that — can we learn from this, and how?
“I’ve been in the process of putting things together since Monday morning. Several agencies and departments were involved and each had a piece of the bigger picture. The County Communication Center, Sheriff’s Office, Stevens Point Police Department, District Attorney, Police and Fire Commission and Deandre himself.
After getting as much information as I could from our end, I met with Dre to discuss the events that took place in the early morning hours of Monday, July 23.
He told me what happened, from his perspective, in his own words.
Dre had no way of knowing that an armed robbery had taken place right before he was stopped by the Portage County Deputy. He had no idea that most law enforcement officers were actively looking for a person with a gun who had a backpack and that everyone in the immediate area was being stopped and questioned. Three different people were stopped, and one of those was stopped twice by different officers.
I explained that the officers had no way of knowing if any one of the people stopped was the suspect, an accomplice, friend, relative, or had anything to do with a robbery that just occurred. Keep in mind this was about 1:30 in the morning on a Monday. The streets aren’t exactly teeming with people.
While there is no way that I can fully understand how Deandre felt during that stop, I think we both walked away with a better understanding of what transpired and why.
We have a lot of work to do as a society when it comes to things like this and we all need to play a part. It doesn’t help anyone’s cause by jumping to conclusions or making presumptions. Everyone has a unique perspective and there is always more to the story. I would hope we spend our energy seeking the truth because that will inevitably lead to the best solutions.
Finally, any sort of discrimination, hate or bias is wrong and there is absolutely no place for it in our community.”
1:21 a.m. – A report of an armed robbery was made an alleged victim in the area of Centerpoint Drive and Strongs Avenue. There were two witnesses who gave the description, and a name of the suspect — 17-year-old Antonio Cruz. Dispatch advised that the suspect was 5’8 with medium skin tone, and that he ran into the downtown area on Main Street.
1:30:06 a.m. – Pettiford-Bates is observed passing Polito’s on bike after leaving his shift at the Brickhaus.
1:30:48 a.m. – Pettiford-Bates is stopped by a Sheriff’s deputy, with an officer from the SPPD joining in less than a minute later.
From here, Pettiford-Bates was asked for identification, and his wallet was retrieved from his back pocket. As the officer was speaking with Pettford-Bates, a deputy searched through the contents of his backpack. According to the officer on the scene, Pettiford-Bates did not ask many questions, or say much during his contact with him. Police claim Pettiford-Bates understood that police were just doing their job.
1:35 a.m. – Pettiford-Bates was let go, and was no longer considered a suspect.