Caught on video: Did Montgomery County Police officer go too far in arrest of 16-year-old Keelan Senior?
GERMANTOWN, Md. (WJLA) - The Montgomery County Police Department launched an investigation Monday night into whether one of its officers acted appropriately in the arrest of a teen in Germantown that was caught on video.
An ABC 7 News I-Team photographer recorded the incident on tape, while standing inside a nearby restaurant, after wondering whether the officer was being a bit aggressive in handling a group of teens he confronted on Sunday evening at the Germantown Commons shopping center.
While you can't hear the conversation when the video recording begins, you do see the officer circling four young men. Then he pulls what looks like a tobacco pouch from the pocket of one of the teens, whom he proceeds to grab by the shirt and pull towards the back of a building.
At one point in the video, the officer appears to put his hands around 16-year-old Keelan Senior’s throat before cuffing the teen and asking for his identification.
Police said the officer had responded after they received two calls—one around 5:30 p.m. saying six teenagers were arguing near the Corner Bakery Cafe, and another around 7:20 p.m. claiming a group of teens was smoking marijuana in the same area. Police say the complainant actually pointed out Keelan and his friends to the officer in question.
Keelan was arrested for failing to provide an ID after the officer found a cigar on him, but no drugs, police said.
Another teen in the group told ABC 7 News that they were all walking toward the shopping center after playing basketball when they saw the officer make a U-turn in his car and come after them.
"He said, 'What were you guys doing, were you doing anything bad, as usual?'" recounted Pierre Germain. "Basically, he was saying we were bad, judging us on how we look."
Germantown residents patronizing the shopping center also raised questions about the officer's actions.
"There's probably a little bit of excessive force," observed Joey Werble."Not sure why a 16-year-old needs to show an ID, but we didn't have the lead up to it, so it's hard to know."
"The guy was not resisting arrest," added Osei Sarkotie. "He was not being violent, and yet you can see [the officer] reaching towards his throat."
In a statement released Monday night, police said: "Almost immediately after we received the video from Channel 7, it was sent to the Chief of Police, Internal Affairs, as well as this officer's District Commander and a query has begun. The tape and the officer's actions are being reviewed."
Keelan and his mother, Yolanda Mike, spoke to ABC 7 News about the incident on Tuesday.
“[The officer] just grabbed my neck, like this,” Keelan said, demonstrating on his mother. “He shouldn’t have grabbed me like the way he did, because I wasn’t doing nothing wrong to him at all.”
Mother and son say they’re frustrated and upset, but thankful for 21st-century technology—that the incident was caught on tape.
“We never always get the full story,” Mike said, admitting she thought her son was exaggerating about the police officer’s actions before she saw the video. “Was that necessary? And why is it that you felt that you needed to take him to the side and try to take off in the back of the store?”
“If people didn’t come out with their cell phones, I honestly believe that the officer woulda did way more than he woulda done,” Keelan said.
A Montgomery County statute says police have every right to ask for a person’s name and address, regardless of probable cause. Because Keelan initially refused to give his name, the officer was able to arrest the teen.
Still, Mike fired off an email complaint to Montgomery County Police about the way her son was treated. She is also concerned about the arrest leaving Keelan with a record; attorney A. Scott Bolden says she has every right to be concerned.
“Once they make a decision, the police make that decision to arrest you, OK, your life is going to change forever,” said Bolden, a former prosecutor who is now a defense attorney.
Bolden says even if Keelan’s arrest record is sealed, “your employer, who does a background check on you, doesn’t come back with no arrest … the report comes back saying that the arrest record has been sealed.”
“I’m really not a bad kid,” Keelan said. “I really want to go to college and be a better person in life.”
Bolden added, “No matter what, he’s got an arrest record, whether he’s prosecuted or not. And he’s arrested for what—for not giving the police his name? My goodness, are we in the ‘50s in the South? For having tobacco?”
Questions remain about the circumstances leading up to Keelan’s arrest. ABC 7 News is still waiting to receive a copy of the police report.
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