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Glassboro police chief defends officers who pulled guns on Rowan students

Glassboro Police Chief Frank Brown defended the actions of his officers, who drew their weapons and pointed them at two students after pulling over their vehicle, saying the police received a report that someone had a gun and was driving a car that matched that of the students'.

Altaif Hassan, a Rowan University senior, was being handcuffed while an officer pointed a rifle at his passenger, Gianna Roberson, a freshman during the controversial car stop on Monday.
Altaif Hassan, a Rowan University senior, was being handcuffed while an officer pointed a rifle at his passenger, Gianna Roberson, a freshman during the controversial car stop on Monday.Read moreCourtesy Iyanna Reid

Two days after video of a controversial police stop on the Rowan University campus went viral, Glassboro Police Chief Franklin S. Brown Jr. broke his silence Wednesday and released a body-cam video to show why officers had pulled over two college students and aimed their weapons at them before searching their car for a gun.

No gun was found and the African American couple said they feared for their lives as police ordered them to get out of their car around 4:45 p.m. Monday and walk backward toward the armed officers with their hands raised and then kneel down to be handcuffed.

About 15 minutes before the police stop, officers who were investigating a shoplifting at the nearby Collegetown Shopping Center had received a report that someone with a gun had just left the parking lot in a black Dodge Charger, the chief said in a Facebook post Wednesday.  The students were riding in a car that matched the description of that vehicle.

The body-cam video was attached to the Facebook post to show that the students had not been targeted.

In the video, an unidentified man told police that he saw a man come "out of a store with a gun in his hand and walked into the car with a gun.  I don't know if it's fake or it's a joke."  The chief did not respond to calls for further comment.

Altaif Hassan, a pre-med senior from Trenton, was the driver of the Charger that police stopped. He has a medium build.  After he watched the body-cam video, he said the police should not have acted as aggressively as they did after receiving a report from someone who said he wasn't sure if it was a real gun.

"The police went overboard," Hassan said Wednesday.  A psychiatrist has told him that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from the police stop, he said.  Hassan also said he believes he was racially targeted and said that Glassboro police have stopped him numerous times since he came to Rowan and have not charged him with wrongdoing.

The officers were pointing their guns at the students during the police stop, as seen in videos taken by students who witnessed the incident and posted it on Facebook.  One officer aimed an assault rifle at him, Hassan said, and he said he was ignored when he repeatedly asked why he was being detained.

In the car with Hassan was Giavanna Roberson, a freshman from Cherry Hill who is a nursing major.  She said in an interview Tuesday that she prayed that Hassan wouldn't be shot by police as other young black men across the country have been during police encounters.

Rowan has 19,500 students, and 30 percent are minorities.

A Facebook video taken by students who witnessed the stop got more than 160,000 views and hundreds of comments.

On Wednesday, the police chief, who is African American, said police acted properly.

"Officers have an obligation to investigate when this type of information is provided regarding a serious threat of an alleged armed subject in our community for the safety of all involved, including the people that are subject of the investigation."

Before the chief released the information, Loretta Winters, the president of the Gloucester County NAACP, demanded that police answer questions about the police stop and the video posted on Facebook.  "I want them to investigate, starting with why the police showed up and where they got that information from and was it legitimate? … And do they always come and draw guns and rifles when other kids are around and walking on campus and to class?" she said.

Rowan is holding a meeting 11 a.m. Friday in the student center for people to air any concerns.  The school released a statement saying: "The incident also has sparked a broader conversation about race relations, specifically in the area of law enforcement. Our administration, including our Public Safety leadership, welcomes this dialogue as we continue to work to ensure all of our students, employees, and guests not only are safe but also receive equitable treatment. Rowan's leadership has been working with the Student Government Association to address not only what happened on our campus but also facilitate a dialogue about the ongoing national conversation concerning race and law enforcement."