After two men were attacked on July 21st, the Annapolis Police Department began investigating to solve the crime. The suspects were “5-7 black teenagers.” In their efforts to solve the crime, residents of Clay Street claim that the police are stopping and photographing their children and are alleging racial profiling.
Chief of Police, Michael Pristoop, defends his officers and the practice saying that it is one tool they use in a toolbox to fight crime.
An angry resident testified that an 18-year old, Damar Simms, was arrested for trespassing after he refused to be photographed. The resident testified that he did not tell the officer the teen was trespassing and indeed testified the teen was welcome on his property. After charging the teen, he was released on a signature bond. Simms is currently awaiting trial for trespassing and CDS charges stemming from an April 26th incident.
Another resident, Tarsha Beavers testified that the practice is commonplace. She cited being detained in downtown Annapolis after having dinner at Pusser’s Caribbean Grill with her daughter. The officers did not immediately explain why she was being detained, but ultimately explained that two black women were suspects in a theft from a store in the Harbour Center. Beavers said if the police are looking for 5-7 black teenagers–they will find them on Clay Street.
The parent of another 16-year old teen testified that her son is a model citizen–playing sports, going to college, working two jobs. She testified that police came to his place of employment and removed him from the job to interview and photograph him. She declined to file a formal complaint with the police department, but admonished the council that this practice is indeed racial profiling.
Robert Eades, a vocal community activist, echoed those sentiments during his testimony. Eades has been calling for more recreational activities for lower income youth in the City for years and said that this is a result of ignoring his pleas. Without recreational activities, teens will hang out in groups on the street. He emphasized there is a difference between a group and a gang, and stated that there are no gangs on Clay Street.
From a legal point of view, photographing children (or anyone) from a public location is acceptable as long as there are not any extraordinary means to get the image. However, detaining them and photographing them may be a little more questionable and Eades encouraged the parents of the children who were detained and photographs to “sue the hell out of the City.”
While the police are under pressure from the Mayor to reduce crime and attack the drug problem head on, they also find themselves in a Catch-22 to their benefit. If they randomly stop anyone that looks remotely similar to a suspect in a crime, and come up with something (even not related to the crime in question) they chalk it up to good police work. If they don’t find anything, it is also good police work because no stone is being left unturned.
This all came to light late last week and began to spread on social media. The Mayor found out about it on Monday and asked the Chief of Police to address the council. A flier was distributed to residents asking them to come to the meeting last night to testify against this practice.
The Mayor and the Chief plan to meet with residents and to review or define a policy for departmental photographing of potential suspects.