By PATTY NIEBERG
Associated Press/Report for America
DENVER (AP) — A black man who was handcuffed by white police officers after they pointed a gun at a car with young children inside said he has agreed to meet with the Denver police chief this week after the case came to light in the wake of the George Floyd protests.
Naphtali Israel told The Associated Press Tuesday that what happened to him and his family in a grocery store parking lot on May 7 is another example of the injustice that has sparked civil unrest since Floyd’s death in Minneapolis over three weeks ago.
“They constantly try to demonize victims of bad officers to try to justify their standpoint and the world is seeing this and they’re speaking,” Israel said. “They’re tired of it. I’m tired of it. The community is tired of it.”
Denver police said they acted appropriately to a complaint of a black man with a gun.
“The fact that there was reportedly a weapon and it was unknown what that weapon was being used for, I believe it’s reasonable for the officers to be in a position to respond tactically to that threat," said Division Chief Ron Thomas.
Israel said he didn’t have a gun and his attorney noted it’s not illegal to be black and own a gun.
Israel and attorney David Lane plan to meet with Police Chief Paul M. Pazen on Thursday at the chief’s request.
“I’m optimistic but yet I don’t fully grasp or understand what the chief of police is trying to accomplish," Israel said, "but I’m definitely open to meeting with him and to hear what he has to say.”
On May 7, police responded to a 911 call regarding a black man in a white hoodie sitting in a Cadillac alone with a gun in a supermarket parking lot. Security footage released by Lane shows a sergeant drive up to the car and point his gun for about 15 seconds at three children in the car.
Although the video footage has no audio, Lane said the sergeant ordered the 14-year-old to “take her (expletive) hands off the steering wheel!”
Israel, 44, said he had just returned from the hospital with his newborn baby and fiancée. Wanting to give her and the baby some time alone, he said he took her 14-, 7- and 2-year-old children grocery shopping.
The youngest grew restless, he said, so he decided to buy the children snacks and bring them back to the car while he finished shopping.
As Israel was checking out, he heard a woman yelling frantically about a father to a store manager. When Israel approached, the woman told him a police officer was pointing a gun at the children in the car.
Outside, Israel was confronted by three police officers who began questioning him and telling him to stand back as the children cried, he said.
Body camera footage shows the white officers handcuff Israel and pat him down in search of a weapon. Once they discovered Israel was unarmed, they released him and explained the 911 call they had received.
“When it all happened, I felt helpless,” Israel said. “And now I feel sad about the whole situation with my kids because to hear them say the things that they say now that they never said before concerning police officers, concerning guns, concerning their skin color.”
The sergeant later came to Israel’s home with the groceries he had left behind, Israel said. The officer gave what he described as a pep talk “about why I should be strong in this situation and these things happen and unfortunately he doesn’t have an explanation for me."
“I perceived that as he was trying to justify his standpoint because he never apologized,” he added.
Thomas praised the sergeant’s actions and intentions for following up with the family. “We support the fact that he wanted to be of help to a member of our community," he said.
Israel said he filed a complaint online after going to the precinct and being ignored. Thomas said he wasn’t aware of how Israel’s complaint was filed, but confirmed it is under investigation.
“While certainly the possession of a weapon is not in and of itself not against the law, certainly I think there’s reason to investigate that,” he said.
Israel said the 14- and 7-year old children are undergoing therapy for the trauma. He said he’s also started teaching them how to interact with police and not get too emotional.
“I got to keep drilling this stuff into their heads because that officer got out his car, within one second he had his gun pointed at them," Israel said. "You know and in my mind I’m thinking, imagine if I had all boys, would my boys be dead?”
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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