‘I’m Not Prejudiced’ — Tells NJ Cops Black Man Had Gun, But They Can’t Find It
GLASSBORO — A man walked into a store on Oct. 1 and told police that he had seen a black gunman pointing his weapon at a vehicle parked in the shopping center.
And just like that, borough police were off to stop a possible threat to the community.
Instead, they pulled over two black Rowan University students, who police temporarily detained after aiming handguns and a rifle at them.
Police found no weapon. No charges were filed. But the damage was done.
On the one hand, police say they were doing their job. On the other, current and former students had another example of what they say is local police singling out and hassling people of color.
The university this weekend held a forum to discuss police-community relations and the police department on Wednesday released 13 recordings from police body cams “in the spirit of complete transparency and to demonstrate the Police Department’s compliance with appropriate protocols and training for dealing with this type of incident.”
The videos provide a complete look at the incident, including the supposed witness’ descriptions.
Did he really see a man pointing a gun?
He says he’s “positive.”
“He came out of the store with a gun in his hand. I don’t know if it’s fake,” the man is seen telling police. “It was a black gun. A thousand percent.”
According to the video, the man (whose image was obscured by police to protect his identity) is seen walking into a T-Mobile store where officers were investigating an unrelated shoplifting.
The man tells them that he had just seen a man pointing a gun at a black Dodge Charger in the parking lot. He says the gunman then got into the driver’s seat and took off.
As the police pursuit and traffic stop ensues, an officer remains with the man at the shopping center, pressing him for details.
“We have to justify what we did,” the officer says about the pursuit and stop.
The man grows increasingly defensive and insists in no uncertain terms that he saw a black man — “a little fat with puffy hair” — aim a gun at the car.
“We didn’t get any calls for it besides you flagging us down,” the officer tells him.
When the cop says police want people to report anything suspicious, the man tells the officer that “I’m that guy.”
The man then claims that he once called the FBI to report one of “the guys in Florida that took the airplane and they went into the Twin Towers,” saying he knew “100 percent it was him” and he “told the FBI where he’s at.”
It is not clear what exactly he’s talking about and the officer changes the subject.
“I’m not prejudiced,” the man volunteers. “But when it fits, it fits. Black guy, racing car, sitting in front, coming out of the store with a gun, laughing his head off […] and took off.”
The Townsquare News Network wanted to ask police whether they now believe the man actually saw a gun, but officials did not return a request for comment.
The Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating at the request of the police chief.
The two hours of video also show the two students — Altaif Hassan, 21, and Giovanna Roberson, 18 — struggling to understand why they were pulled over at gunpoint.
The officers make the students get out of the car with their hands over their head and walk backward.
Hassan later said that if he had tripped, police could have shot him.
"Are you really protecting and serving? I didn't feel protected. I felt like I was being harassed. The same police that pulled me over on Monday were the same [police] faces I've been seeing since freshman year," he told WPGs sister station, New Jersey 101.5, earlier this week.
The video shows Hassan erupting in fury when an officer finally tells him the reason for the stop.
Police don't rough up the students and the officers respond to Hassan calmly.
The students tell police that they had been at the shopping center so that Hassan could pick up a pair of eyeglasses. Hasan gave police permission to search his vehicle.
On Wednesday, Hassan said that he stands by his description of events.
"Everything I said is pretty much what happened. Just how I remembered it," he said about the videos.
Rowan University spokesman Joe Cardona said it was good for all the footage to be released.
"It's good for everyone to see everything first-hand rather than speculating as to what may have happened," Cardona said. "It's a nice step in the continual talk about the incident.
He said the release is part of a number of things planned between the Rowan community and Glassboro police, including the formation of groups to further discuss relations with law enforcement.
Dan Alexander contributed to this report.