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Mississippi chief defends pointing guns in traffic stop

November 01, 2017 - 6:39 PM

JACKSON, Miss. - A Mississippi police chief is disputing parts of the account of an African-American man who says officers swarmed his family's vehicle and pointed guns at him, his wife and four children after a neighbour mistook them for burglars.

Gulfport Chief Leonard Papania posted a video Wednesday on Facebook responding to the allegations by Kelvin Fairley, whose sport utility vehicle was stopped by police Sunday night.

Papania said officers drew their weapons because the SUV had tinted windows and they couldn't see inside it. He said officers used "proper law enforcement tactics" to have Fairley and the front-seat passenger — Fairley's wife, Natasha Krikorian — step out of the SUV. Each was handcuffed and taken to a police car.

The chief said officers put their guns away when they saw children were in the vehicle.

"Perceiving no immediate threat, the officers holstered their handguns and instructed the four remaining family members to exit the vehicle," Papania said. "None of the children were handcuffed. They were instructed to go to the police vehicles.

His post includes several minutes of police camera video.

Papania said officers' discussions with family members revealed that Fairley lived in Gulfport until last year and he and his wife now live in California. They said they were retrieving items from Fairley's Gulfport home Sunday and used flashlights inside the house because the electricity was off. A neighbour reported to police that it appeared a break-in was taking place.

Officers removed the handcuffs from Fairley and Krikorian after about three minutes and the police supervisor at the scene explained to Fairley why they had been pulled over, the chief said.

"Fairley indicated his understanding of the chain of events," Papania said. "The supervisor apologized to Fairley about the incident. They shook hands and Fairley and his wife departed the scene."

Fairley told local media that he thought officers had racially profiled him. Papania said the person who called to report a possible burglary could not determine the race of the people involved.

"No description that included race was dispatched," Papania said. "That aside, there was nothing in my review of this matter that indicated racially biased actions or misconduct."

Fairley and Krikorian went to the police station later Sunday night to report how officers had treated them. A video shot by Fairley's sister, who went there with them, showed that when Fairley told a white officer what had happened, the officer replied: "Obviously, you don't understand our business." The officer said police have to use caution when approaching possible suspects. After a short exchange, the officer told Fairley to file a written complaint.

Papania said an officer, who was a desk supervisor, should have responded better when Fairley went to the police station to complain about how his family was treated.

"We should have exercised better demeanour in the police lobby," Papania said.

The chief said Fairley filed a written complaint Wednesday.

Carlos Moore, an attorney who said he is representing Fairley and the family, said Wednesday that he was drafting letters to demand that Gulfport Police Department preserve all information about the traffic stop, including dash cam and body cam video.

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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