A teenager whom D.C. police tackled and forcibly detained after a 911 caller described him as a potential robber ran from police because he feared he would be killed, he and his attorney said at a news conference Thursday.
The lawyer, Peter C. Grenier, said an officer sped in his cruiser toward Jason Goolsby near Capitol Hill’s Eastern Market, coming within inches of him, then emerged with one hand on his holstered gun and the other clutching pepper spray as he ordered Goolsby to the ground.
“So my first instinct was to run,” said Goolsby, who is 18 and an African American. “I didn’t want to die. I feared for my life.”
Grenier told reporters at the University of the District of Columbia Law School that his client reacted reflexively based on experiences of black youths with police and the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a spinal injury while in the custody of Baltimore police earlier this year.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) issued a statement Thursday saying police are reviewing what she called an “unfortunate incident.”
Goolsby’s friend, Michael Brown, captured part of the detention Monday evening on a cellphone camera and posted it on the Internet, sparking protests on Tuesday. The video shows two officers on top of Goolsby, struggling to put his arms behind his back. Grenier said Goolsby and Brown were held handcuffed on a curb for nearly two hours Monday evening before being freed and told it was a “misunderstanding.” Neither was arrested or charged with a crime; police said the two were detained for 10 to 15 minutes.
Grenier said one officer told Goolsby that he was detained after he left an ATM on Pennsylvania Avenue SE, on Capitol Hill, because a white woman had called and said, “You made her feel uncomfortable.”
Goolsby had held the vestibule door open for a woman who was pushing a baby stroller. The woman had left without withdrawing money and called 911 to say the black youths at the bank appeared to be looking for someone to rob, according to a transcript of the call released by the District.
Ronald Mason Jr., president of UDC, where Goolsby is a freshman studying music, said the incident was driven by fear on all sides.
He described Goolsby and Brown as “the sons that we all wished we had or have.” He said Goolsby held the door because he was raised to be polite, and ran from the police because black youths “have been taught to be afraid.”
Likewise, Mason said, the woman who called police “saw what America has taught her to see. She felt what America has taught her to feel. She did what America has taught her to do. Similar with the police.”
D.C. police did not offer further comment Thursday but had said earlier that officers responded to a call about youths who were described as suspicious and who appeared to be casing an ATM.
Police also said they reacted to a description that fit Goolsby and Brown.
Goolsby and two friends had gone to the bank after coming from a “boot camp,” learning to mentor at-risk youth in safe-sex practices and AIDS prevention. Goolsby needed money to pay for a recording studio session later Monday night, Grenier said.
Grenier said Goolsby was in the ATM vestibule and had his bank card out when he got a text saying the recording session had been canceled. He then held the door open for a woman with a stroller and a man who was with her. Grenier said the woman told the man that she had forgotten something and they left. Goolsby and his friends left a few minutes later.
In the meantime, a woman had called 911 and identified the ATM site.
The woman, who was not identified, told the 911 operator that black youths were “waiting at the door to let people in but aren’t doing anything inside of the bank.”
She also said, “We just left but we felt like if we had taken money out we might’ve gotten robbed,” according to the transcript.
Goolsby said the police cruiser headed toward him as he crossed Pennsylvania Avenue at Eighth Street SE. He ran and was caught, and he struggled as two officers forced his hands behind his back to handcuff him. Grenier said his client was “brutalized.” The attorney said that “apparently no one considered that Jason might actually have been at the bank to withdraw money.”
Delroy Burton, president of the D.C. police union, said the officers did their jobs properly, located “the very person the call was about” and used reasonable force to detain Goolsby.
“He wasn’t running from a black officer or a white officer,” Burton said. “He was running from the police.” Burton said Goolsby engaged in “an unprovoked flight that caused the officers to believe that he was suspicious.”
Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.