Clayton's police chief says his department is reviewing why its officers apparently confused four suspected dine-and-dashers with ten black Washington University freshman earlier this month — and it's raising some familiar and uncomfortable questions for the department.
First reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
, the incident took place early in the morning of Sunday, July 8. The ten freshman, who are attending a summer program intended to help students acclimate to university life, had gathered around 12:30 a.m. for an after-midnight meal.
's story cites details contained in an internal email sent last week from an associate vice chancellor to other administrators. The email claims the the students were walking from the IHOP on Clayton Road, near the St. Louis Galleria, to a nearby Metrolink station.
Then the cops pulled up. The quoted email continues (emphasis ours):
"They were confronted by two Clayton Police officers driving separate vehicles... They were told they were suspects in a crime that just occurred at IHOP where a group of customers left without paying their bill. Several of the students produced receipts to show that they had paid.
"However, our students were still forcefully told that they were suspects and had to walk the three blocks back along Brentwood Boulevard, with now six police cars in tow to make sure they complied — a humiliating experience. When they arrived at the restaurant, the manager quickly confirmed they were not suspects. The officers dismissed them without any apology."
In response, Clayton Police Chief Kevin R. Murphy disputed that six police cars followed the students. Rather, it was was only four patrol cars, he said. But aside from that pedantic point, Murphy does acknowledge to the daily that the students were — whoops! — not the people the cops were trying to locate.
Murphy told the Post-Dispatch
that the actual suspects were described as four young black man who had skipped out on a $62 bill. Why the officers insisted on marching ten black students down Brentwood Boulevard, and back to the IHOP, is not clear.
Update, October 1
: In a report released by Clayton Mayor Harold Sanger
, the department claimed that it was the students who insisted on returning to the store to resolve the issue in person, not police.
End of update, the original story continues below:
Murphy acknowledged to the daily that when the students returned, a manager in the restaurant's doorway informed the cops, "Those were not the people involved in the IHOP event."
In his officers' defense, Murphy noted that his cops are "duty bound" to respond to 911 calls reporting crime, noting that there have been 45 reports this year of customers skipping out on bills at the IHOP.
Now, Murphy's arguments would certainly be relevant to a general discussion of IHOP-related crime in the seedy red-light pancake district near the Galleria. Except in this case, all Murphy's cops accomplished that night was stalk and harass a bunch of university students for the crime of being black and IHOP-adjacent.
Interestingly, Murphy apparently didn't mention that, just four months ago, his officers engaged in a similar incident involving their "duty bound" behavior to question black people doing things outside. In two incidents in March, the department responded to calls of a suspicious black man going door-to-door in a Clayton neighborhood.
That suspicious man turned out to be Jason Wilson
, who at the time was campaigning for a seat on the Clayton School Board. (Wilson ultimately won that election
, becoming the first African-American to serve on the Clayton School Board.)
Now, it looks like Murphy and the Clayton police are going back to the drawing board to figure out how their commitment to duty went so wrong. The department is currently conducting an "internal review" of the July 8 incident. Murphy has apologized for the incident, telling the Post-Dispatch
, "Certainly, I'm sorry they were inconvenienced and anxious about what happened. That was not our intent."
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com
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