Hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean 'was scared for my life' during police incident in West Hollywood

The hip-hop artist was briefly detained in West Hollywood, California, Tuesday.

ByABC News
March 22, 2017, 9:34 AM

— -- Hip-hop artist and businessman Wyclef Jean today said he feared for his life when police briefly detained him in West Hollywood, California, early Tuesday morning during an incident he describes as a case of racial injustice.

"I have family on both sides of the lens but I got a chance to see what happens with a citizen versus a police firsthand. And I have to tell you, I was scared for my life to the point where I could have acted different. And if I acted different, something else would have happened to me," Jean told ABC News' "Good Morning America.”

He added: "I'm alive to tell my story.”

The Grammy winner initially posted a short video to social media Tuesday morning, where he wrote, "LAPD another case of mistaken identity. Black man with red bandana robbed a gas station as I was in the studio working but im in handcuffs?"

The officers handcuffed him in the overnight incident and took off his Haitian bandanna, he says in the video clip, while a colleague shoots the video.

Jean's representative issued a full statement later Tuesday asking police and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to follow up in the incident and conduct "a formal investigation into racial profiling."

"Mr. Jean is requesting a formal investigation into racial profiling by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, LAPD chief Charlie Beck and the LA Sheriff's Department while calling upon the ACLU and Black Lives Matter to join him in defense of civil liberties and racial bias,” his rep said in the statement.

The Los Angeles mayor's office has yet to respond to this request, but the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department did seek to set the record straight in a response, first correcting the musician that it was their department, not the Los Angeles Police Department, that was involved in the incident.

The Sheriff’s Department later released a lengthy statement to ABC News Tuesday, saying the officers were responding to a witness' description of an incident at a gas station, where the suspects allegedly pistol-whipped two pedestrians, stole their belongings and then took off in a car similar to the one Jean was riding in. The sheriff's department pointed out that the alleged victims could only describe the driver by his race, which authorities did not specify.

After the victims, who had feared "for their lives," gave the suspects their identification and money, authorities spotted the car Jean was in "a short distance from the crime scene," the sheriff's department said.

"Deputies followed that vehicle briefly before the vehicle pulled over," the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department stated. "As deputies approached the vehicle, the occupants - driver and front passenger, almost simultaneously began to exit the vehicle. It was at this time that the deputies attempted to detain who they believed to be the suspect of the violent crime, Mr. Jean."

Jean, 47, was handcuffed "due to the violent nature of the call (armed robbery), the similarity of the suspect vehicle ... the time of day of the unfolding detention and Mr. Jean’s furtive movements and demeanor," the sheriff's department added.

The Haitian artist was eventually released after being detained for "approximately six minutes" and authorities determined he was not the suspect. The actual suspects were apprehended later four blocks away, the sheriff's department said.

The suspects were driving an Acura, while Jean was riding in a Toyota, according to the sheriff's department.

"It should be noted that during the detention of these suspects ... safety measures were also exercised, as the suspects were handcuffed and secured in the backseat of a patrol vehicle pending further investigation," the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department stated.

The sheriff's department concluded with a statement, saying, "It is unfortunate that Mr. Jean was detained for six minutes during this investigation, as he had no involvement whatsoever in this violent crime ... The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is apologetic for any inconvenience this process caused Mr. Jean. We are grateful we were able to apprehend the robbery suspects and that no one was seriously injured."

During the interview with "GMA" this morning, Jean said he was coming from the recording studio when he was pulled over and authorities refused to communicate with him. Jean said he was "civil" throughout the incident.

He identified himself as Wyclef Jean and repeatedly asked why he was pulled over and handcuffed, Jean said, but authorities did not respond until after he had been detained in a deputy's vehicle for six minutes.

"I feel that I was targeted as a black man. It's clear and it was obvious because when I was getting out of the car and the way that the cops rushed me, the conversation that I was having with them, it was a silent and a deaf conversation," Jean told "GMA."

"So, as a citizen, I feel that it's only right that if I'm telling you my name and who I am, it only takes a second with the technology that we have to basically press a button and Google say, 'This is Wyclef Jean.'"

Jean said he has family in law enforcement and he fully supports their duties, but he believes he was treated unjustly as a citizen and the incident highlights the need for a larger conversation about the sometimes strained relationship between civilians and law enforcement.

"For me, this is bigger than a black-and-white issue," he told "GMA." "The part of the issue and the long conversation that we have to have is how do we establish real relationships with the police and the citizen."