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‘Sheer terror:’ Black real estate agent, clients handcuffed by Michigan police during home tour – USA TODAY

Like any other busy Sunday, real estate agent Eric Brown arrived at a Michigan home to give a tour on Aug. 1.

His longtime friend, Roy Thorne, was looking to buy his first house, and Brown was showing him the second floor of a Wyoming, Michigan, property when he noticed at least two officers with their guns drawn outside. Thorne’s 15-year old son, Samuel, quickly emerged from the basement and announced he’d seen officers surrounding the house.

Brown first worried police were trying to arrest a suspect and might drive them inside the house. When he realized the officers were there for him and his clients, he remembers feeling “sheer terror.”

“I thought, ‘We’re going to get shot. This is going to go really bad, really fast,'” Brown told USA TODAY.

Thorne, an Army veteran, said he had the same thought as he walked down the stairs.

“I prepared myself to get shot or killed,” he said. “I can’t get it out of my head. I keep replaying that walk down the stairs.”

Officers ordered the three of them – all Black males – to come outside with their hands up, handcuffed them and put them in separate police cars.

“Looking at my son, watching him get cuffed,” Thorne said. “I felt defeated … he’s just a kid.” 

Police were responding to a call from a neighbor who said a person who had been arrested last month for unlawful entry into the house had returned in the same vehicle, a black Mercedes, according to a statement from Wyoming Department of Public Safety. Five officers responded to the home and found two vehicles, a black Hyundai Genesis sedan and a black Chevrolet Malibu.

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Two officers unholstered their guns during the incident, according to police, which is standard protocol for responding to a reported home invasion.

Officers can be heard in body camera footage of the incident explaining why they had been called to the scene and acknowledging that this was likely a misunderstanding. While still handcuffed, Brown showed police his realtor’s license and the system he used to get the key from the lockbox.

After confirming Brown was a real estate agent giving a tour to the Thornes, officers removed their handcuffs within 10 minutes of arriving to the home and apologized.

Police reviewed footage of the incident and found no policy violations.

“We have concluded race played no role in our officers’ treatment of the individuals who were briefly detained,” the statement said. “While it is unfortunate that innocent individuals were placed in handcuffs, our officers responded reasonably and according to department policy based on the information available to them at the time.”

But Brown believes he and his clients were racially profiled. If they had been white, he alleged, the neighbor would not have called police and officers would not have responded in the same manner.

“If that’s the protocol, procedure and policy then those are the protocols, procedures and policies that need to change,” Brown said, adding he and Thorne are consulting with attorneys on potential legal action to encourage policy change.

Thorne said the experience has prompted him to have tough conversations with his sons about how to navigate interactions with the police, a discussion they first started having after the death of Philando Castile in 2016.

He hopes sharing their story can prevent situations like this.

The neighbor “changed our lives forever with that call,” he said. “If you see a crime, report a crime. Don’t report people doing every day normal things.”

Police Chief Kimberly Koster reached out to Brown and offered to meet with him and the Thornes to talk about the incident, Wyoming police said. Citing his own emotional trauma, Brown initially declined but said he plans to talk with Koster after hiring an attorney.

Still, Brown said he feels fear and anxiety when recounting the incident.

“I’m sweating right now, it’s difficult to continue to tell this story. I’m not doing as well today as I was doing prior to the incident,” he said. “This is going to be an ongoing thing probably for life – you just keep pushing for change.”

Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg



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