The woman stopped her car in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Edina, one of Minnesota’s wealthiest suburbs.
Just moments before, she had passed a black man who had been walking on the shoulder of the street, seemingly to avoid construction along the sidewalk.
After passing the man, the woman noticed an unmarked police car behind her activate its lights. The vehicle pulled in front of the pedestrian and cut him off; a plainclothes officer emerged and accused the man of walking in the middle of the road.
The allegation shocked her, the woman later said, and as she witnessed the officer take the man by the back of his jacket, she sensed she needed to do something.
So she left her car and began recording.
“[I] was watching something that I didn’t think was very fair,” the woman, identified by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune as Janet Rowles, told the newspaper. “I’m not against the police. I was against what he was doing.”
What Rowles recorded was a seven-minute video of a tense exchange that led to an arrest — a video that has gone viral after Rowles uploaded it to YouTube last week.
It is the latest in a string of videos to raise questions about interactions between law enforcement officers and people of color.
The Edina Police Department disputed parts of Rowles’s account and said the officer’s actions were justified because of circumstances not shown in the video.
Nevertheless, the Minneapolis NAACP chapter has called for an independent investigation of the incident, calling it “painful and humiliating.” The video prompted the mayor of Edina to address the incident Sunday, saying that the officer had followed protocol but that the city would be working with several groups to see what could be done better in the future.
The pedestrian’s citation has been dropped, the mayor added.
The Star-Tribune identified the pedestrian in the video as 34-year-old Larnie B. Thomas of Minneapolis and the plainclothes officer as Lt. T.F. Olson.
In the video, which starts sometime after the two began interacting, Thomas seems outraged and demands to know why Olson stopped him.
“You’re walking in the middle of the street,” Olson says, continuing to lead Thomas by his jacket toward an unmarked squad car, a black Jeep, several feet away.
“I’m walking on the damn white line!” Thomas insists loudly. ” . . . You can’t just put your hands on me like this!”
(Warning: The video below contains profanity.)
When they reach the police vehicle, Olson tells him calmly to put his hands on the car. Thomas curses at Olson and flings his backpack toward the hood of the Jeep.
“You’re gonna take me to jail for that s—t?” he shouts.
Periodically throughout the video, Rowles, the bystander, can be heard pleading with the officer to let go of Thomas’s jacket.
“Maybe you could just help show him where a good place to walk is?” Rowles says.
As the situation escalates — and after it becomes apparent to Thomas that the officer is not going to let him continue walking — Rowles interjects again.
“Why don’t you just help him?” she asks. “He’s scared, sir. It’s scary.”
Olson continues to maintain a grip on the jacket until, at one point, Thomas removes it. By the time another police vehicle arrives, Thomas is shirtless. A responding officer walks toward him and says, “My partner [Olson] told me you’re under arrest.”
Rowles interjects: “No, he never said that,” she says. “He never said that.”
An unidentified man off the camera agrees with Rowles: “He’s lying.”
“You could have showed him where to walk really kindly,” Rowles says. “You were the one who incited this.”
The responding officer places Thomas in handcuffs.
“He’s scared. He’s scared,” Rowles calls out. “People die in these situations. It’s scary.”
Thomas was cited for disorderly conduct and pedestrian failure to obey a traffic signal, and was released, according to the Star-Tribune.
According to Edina Mayor Jim Hovland, Thomas was not taken to jail but driven to a local shopping mall at his request and released.
A number was not listed for Thomas and he did not respond to messages sent to a Facebook account in his name. The Edina Police Department also did not respond to interview requests.
The city released a statement Friday that contradicted some aspects of Rowles’s account of what took place minutes before the video started. According to police, Thomas was wearing headphones when the officer tried to advise him to get out of the roadway.
The city’s statement said that Thomas deliberately ignored the officer and “continued to walk in the lane of traffic,” which is when Olson decided to get out of his police car.
“The man did not stop and was defiant,” the city’s statement continued. “It was after that point that the recording began. The officer smelled alcohol on the man’s breath during the incident. A breathalyzer later confirmed the presence of alcohol.”
The statement also seemed to refer to Rowles’s recording of the video, although it did not name her.
“As a bystander, it’s your right to film officer interactions,” the statement said. “However, it’s important to note that attempting to interact with the officer and/or suspect creates a greater risk to the safety of the officer, suspect and bystanders. Public safety is our first priority. It makes it more difficult for officers to deal with the situation on hand when they are at the same time dealing with the distractions of bystanders.”
Rowles uploaded the video to YouTube — simply titled “Edina Police Incident 10/12/16″ — where it has been viewed more than 600,000 times. In the summary for the video, she wrote that she had observed Thomas walking on the side of the road because of construction on the sidewalk.
Rowles told the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP that she began videotaping the incident “because I felt that the pedestrian might be safer with my presence as a recording witness.”
“There was absolutely no reason for the officer to stop him from walking. I easily passed him in my vehicle because he was hugging the right side next to the construction, literally walking on the white line that marks the shoulder,” Rowles said, according to a Minneapolis NAACP statement released Saturday.
“I have no interest in vilifying the police, but obviously I got out of my car in the first place because I perceive the pedestrian might not get treated fairly because of his ethnicity. There is now much controversy over the time that elapsed between when the incident began and when I started to video. I remember it to be much shorter than the police state, but I feel this is somewhat irrelevant because he never should have been stopped in the first place.”
A professional website for Rowles describes her as a mediator “specializing in high conflict and emotionally-difficult situations.” She did not respond to interview requests.
In the statement, Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds said the group is calling for a formal investigation of the incident, renewed police training and an apology to the pedestrian. Levy-Pounds said the group is not representing Thomas but has been in touch with him.
“We’re looking at the circumstances of what happened and pushing for big-picture policy changes,” Levy-Pounds told The Washington Post. “It was really disturbing to read the response by the Edina police basically doubling down . . . as opposed to taking responsibility.”
At a meeting of the Edina City Council on Tuesday, dozens of citizens spent three hours venting their concerns about what they had seen in the video, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
Edina resident Katherine Bass told council members the city needed to examine racial bias in policing, MPR reported.
“Plenty of young men of color live in this community. Wear hoodies and backpacks and move themselves around on their own power. My 14-year-old nephew is one of them,” Bass said, according to MPR. “He’s been stopped by police [while] riding his bike in this community. The only city he’s ever lived in. He’s afraid to interact with Edina police. Is this the best we can do?”
Edina is an affluent suburb of Minneapolis with a population of about 50,000 people and a median household income of $86,968, where 88 percent of the city’s residents are white and 3 percent are black, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.
It is less than 20 miles from Falcon Heights, Minn., where 32-year-old Philando Castile was killed by police in July as his girlfriend broadcast his final moments in real time on Facebook.
The death of Castile, a cafeteria worker at a local elementary school, sparked outrage and protests over what people saw as evidence of unequal treatment of minorities by law enforcement.
According to a database maintained by The Washington Post, at least 768 people have been shot and killed by police in 2016.
Hovland said in a statement Sunday that the city would review its protocol “and determine how to better approach this type of incident with greater sensitivity in the future.”
“We will work with the Edina community and invite other organizations to participate in this very important conversation,” Hovland wrote. “There are lessons we should and will learn from this experience.”
At Tuesday’s council meeting, the mayor said he planned to meet with Thomas — and at least one council member apologized to Thomas outright, though the pedestrian was not present, MPR reported.
“I hope it does not represent what we are about here in Edina, but as has been said, we can do better,” Edina councilman Bob Stewart said, according to MPR. “I will say to Larnie Thomas, I am sorry that you were treated the way you were.”
This post, originally published on Oct. 18, has been updated.