Police story of detaining black teen in car carrying white grandmother 'strange': Lawyer

The officer said a citizen had reported the teen was a suspect in a robbery.

September 6, 2018, 5:33 PM

A family is "shaken" after police in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, stopped their car carrying a white woman and her black 18-year-old grandson and detained him as a possible robbery suspect, according to their lawyer.

Attorney Joy Bertrand said the grandmother Paulette Barr and her best friend, also a white woman, were on their way home from church Sunday in downtown Milwaukee when they picked up her grandson Akil Carter to give him a lift to work.

A police officer stopped their car shortly in Wauwatosa, after following them about a half-mile, according to Bertrand.

"Our interpretation of what happened is still based on a really limited amount of information. ... What we see happened right now is a young black man was driving with two older white women in a Lexus and pulled over. ... We were told that, after the fact, a tipster had said the car had been involved in a robbery but we've received no corroboration of that tipster. ... We're left to wonder what the real basis of this car stop was and we're still investigating that," she said Thursday. "The police story is strange."

In dashcam video released by the Wauwatosa Police Department Wednesday, officers can be seen pulling over the Lexus. One officer tells Carter, dressed in a yellow T-shirt and gray shorts, to exit the car with his hands up and to face away from officers as he backs up toward them on the sidewalk.

"Stop. Get down on your knees. On your knees. Keep your hands up. Don't move. You understand?" the officer tells Carter.

A woman then exits the passenger side of the car and asks officers to tell her what's going on. An officer then walks over to the Lexus and asks whether she and the driver are OK.

"This is my grandson!" one woman be heard saying. "We're on our way home from church to my house."

"That's your grandson?" the officer says.

The officer tells the two women inside the car that a man had come up to his car earlier and had told him that two black men were robbing a woman in a blue Lexus.

"I said, 'What?' 'Where?' He's like, 'He's robbing them. He's robbing them right now,'" the officer says. "And I'm like, 'Which blue Lexus?' (And he says) 'The one at the light!'"

The officer says that he told the man to stay where he was or follow him while he checked out the car.

"Well, I'm telling you he's my grandson," the woman says. "I'm sure he saw two old white ladies in a car with a black kid and made some assumptions."

The officer apologizes to the women and says Carter will be released.

"I'm certainly glad that the guy was mistaken or wanted to put me in a ruse or something that was not actually occurring," he says. "I apologize."

The Wauwatosa Police Department said Wednesday that the officer was on patrol Sunday around 11:49 a.m. when he was flagged down by a black man and a black woman who said that a robbery either was occurring or had just occurred. The couple identified the suspect as a black man in the backseat of a blue Lexus, police said.

The citizen pointed out the car to the officer, according to a statement released by Wauwatosa Capt. Brian E. Zalewski, and a traffic stop was conducted.

An 18-year-old male was detained "for approximately six minutes while officers investigated," Zalewski said, before he and the occupants in the car were permitted to leave.

The original citizen who reported the incident to police did not stay in the area, as requested by officers, and had yet to be located to get a formal statement, Zalewski said. He said the citizen pulled up to the officer in a car and was described by the officer as a black man in his 40s. No one ever called 911 to report this incident.

"Officers removed their handguns from their holsters based on the original information of a possible violent crime (robbery) in progress, but kept their weapons pointed in a safe direction during the stop. The officers acted professional during the entire interaction," he said.

There was no video of the initial report where the complainant flagged down the officer, Zalewski said.

"Our squad videos only activate when the emergency lights are activated or an officer manually activates the camera. The complainant, and his female passenger, was told by the officer to wait for another officer to come and speak with them, but they apparently left the area," he said.

"We're left to wonder what the real basis of this car stop was."

Bertrand, the family's lawyer, told ABC News that she'd requested documents and tapes for her and her clients to review. She said that she had not yet received anything.

The family had not decided whether to sue.

"It was terrifying," she said of the family's experience. "When they (officers) ordered Akil out of the car, they realized how serious this was. ... And, that Akil was in danger. I think it has really shaken them and the big takeaway in talking with Grandma that I've heard is that she now knows she can't protect her grandson anymore," Bertrand said.

"We're willing to keep an open mind and that's why I've been really conservative with media about saying what we plan to do because we don't know yet," she said. "When we see the full record of the stop, we may have more information, but right now it does not look like a legal stop."

ABC News' Rachel Katz and Barbara Friedman contributed to this reporting.