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Police release bodycam video of gunpoint stop of Rowan students

Glassboro Police release body camera videos of a controversial police stop of two Rowan University students during which guns were pointed at them

Glassboro police bodycam footage shows officers pulling guns on two unarmed Rowan University students on October 1.
Glassboro police bodycam footage shows officers pulling guns on two unarmed Rowan University students on October 1.Read moreCourtesy of Glassboro Police Department

The report of a black man with a gun that led to a controversial police stop of two Rowan University students last week came from a witness who gave conflicting accounts to Glassboro police and blurted out, "I'm not prejudiced," according to newly released body camera video.

The witness had burst into a store where police were investigating a shoplifting incident and said he had just seen a black man with a gun fleeing in a black Dodge Charger after coming out of a nearby store. No one corroborated his story, according to police.

Within 15 minutes, four police officers surrounded a Charger they had followed and pulled it over at the Rowan campus, about a mile away. At least four police officers drew their weapons and ordered the two African American students inside to get out of the car, with their hands raised, and to kneel to be handcuffed.

No gun was found during the Oct. 1 police stop, and student videos of the scene went viral, with more than 240,000 Facebook views. Outrage on the campus led the college to hold a public forum to air student concerns.

More than 200 students attended the forum Friday, and some said they believed Glassboro police had discriminated against minority students, who make up 30 percent of the university's 19,500 students.

In the videos released by Glassboro police, the witness can be heard giving police rambling statements and acknowledging that he couldn't provide a full description of the man or the name of the store he had been in, or say whether the man had pointed the gun at anyone.

Then, at one point, he told the officer: "I'm not prejudiced, but when it fits, it fits. Black guy. Racing car. Sitting in front. Coming out of a store with a gun, laughing his head off, going in [unclear word] and took off. I thought he was gonna peel out. He didn't do that. I thought he was going to shoot me.  He didn't do that. I know he seen me look at him."

Both the witness' account and the police stop at the campus were captured by 13 body camera videos obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News. The videos were also put on the Glassboro Police Department's Facebook page, a move officials said was done to be transparent.  They show high tension and drama during the police stop and a search that lasted nearly an hour. They also reveal the inconsistencies in the witness' account.

Initially, the witness said he could not describe the man because he had only focused on the gun. He said he was sure it was a gun, "1,000 percent."  Later, he said he saw the man stare directly at him. The witness also described the man as heavyset, about 5-foot-6, with "poofy hair."

Altaif Hassan, a pre-med senior at Rowan who drove the Charger that police stopped, said Wednesday that he believes the witness racially profiled him.

"He was a white guy, and he thought I robbed the store, but why didn't people in the store that was robbed call the police?" Hassan said. "It just sounds like he was being racist. He just saw a black kid holding a glasses case and he thought it was a gun."

Hassan, a Trenton resident with a medium build, said he had just picked up his glasses at a Collegetown Shopping Center store  and was heading back to campus to go to class when police stopped him.

His passenger, Giavanna Roberson, a freshman nursing major from Cherry Hill, said last week that she was terrified during the ordeal and feared that Hassan might be shot and killed by police.

In one of the videos, her lip trembled as she sat in the backseat of a police car, handcuffed, and asked why she and Hassan were being detained.

"What's going on?" she asked, but got no answer. When police asked what she was carrying, she said only her cell phone and lip gloss.

The footage also shows dozens of other Rowan students watching the police stop, with four sitting nearby on a brick wall, and one student riding by on a bicycle.

At one point, after Hassan and Roberson were in handcuffs in separate police cars, police yelled, "Passenger, come out" of the car.  The two students told police there was no one else in the car, but police approached it with guns drawn. One of the officers crouched behind his vehicle and aimed what appeared to be a patrol rifle or police assault rifle.

Police have declined to identify the witness and his face was blurred in the video. The witness, who is white, told police he lives in Glassboro and is a grandfather. He said he was just "trying to do his duty" when he made the report.

A police officer who took his statement said, "I don't doubt you," and urged the witness to "be positive" about what he saw.  The officer told him no one had reported a robbery at that shopping center besides the shoplifting.

The witness then said he hoped "it wasn't a hoax" and that he had not made a mistake. He wondered if the man with the gun might have tossed the gun out of the window.

Hassan was seen in the video immediately complying with the police orders to get out of the car, walk backward toward the officers, with his hands up, and kneel.  While in the police car, he is heard angrily questioning why he was being detained.

"You are about to find out that you stopped me for no reason….You all just had guns out on me. How about that?" he asked.  An officer replied that he has "a family to go home to" and that police must be cautious when answering a call stating the presence of a man with a gun.

In an interview last week, Hassan said he had been stopped by police more than 30 times since he has been at Rowan and believes the stops were racially motivated. On Wednesday, he said he believes police would have "acted more professionally" during the Oct. 1 stop if he were white.

Police Chief Frank Brown Jr., who is African American, has not responded to repeated calls for comment.  He also declined an invitation by the college to attend the forum.

Brown was at the police stop and was seen in the video observing the police activity. At one point, he asked officers where the witness first spotted the man with the gun. An officer who could not be seen on the video told him, "Peking Buffet."

"And they pointed a gun supposedly at someone at Peking?" the chief asked. "Yes" came the reply, though the witness never said that in videos released by police.

While the search of the car was still underway at the campus, the officer at the shopping center told the witness that five or six officers had surrounded the car and that the search had begun.

"That's good," the witness said, chuckling.  "Maybe I caught somebody who had a bunch of guns for you guys."