(CNN) — A black real estate agent was showing a house to a black man and his 15-year-old son in a Michigan suburb last week when they looked outside and saw police officers surrounding the property with their guns in hand.
“I knew once they surrounded the house they were preparing for a confrontation,” the father, Roy Thorne, told CNN’s Don Lemon on Friday. “And then my instinct told me that we had to get out of here, we have to get to where they can see that we are not a threat.”
A neighbor had called authorities, saying that a suspect who had been arrested at the property a week earlier had returned to the scene, according to the Wyoming, Michigan Department of Public Safety. But the caller got it wrong: Real estate agent Eric Brown was giving Thorne and his son Samuel a tour of the house in the Wyoming community outside of Grand Rapids after scheduling the visit online on yesterday.
The three were eventually released without incident, but not before Wyoming police ordered them to leave the house with their hands up and handcuff each of them, briefly placing Thorne and their 15-year-old son in the seats. rear of separate patrol cars, according to images released by Wyoming police.
“I was worried,” Thorne said, “but I was more concerned with getting my son out of that situation and getting us all out of there.”
When asked if he felt they had been racially profiled, Brown said: “At the time, it certainly felt that way.” He found it difficult to justify the level of force used, he said, describing it as a “tactical” response.
In a statement Friday, the Wyoming Department of Public Safety said it had conducted an internal review and concluded that “race played no role in our officials’ treatment of people, and our officials responded appropriately.”
“While it is unfortunate that innocent people were handcuffed, our officials responded reasonably and in accordance with department policy based on the information available to them at the time,” the statement said.
The incident scared 15-year-old Samuel Thorne, who told Lemon he felt “confusion, shock and fear … because he had no idea why everyone was there at the time.”
“He went from ‘dad, there are cops outside’ to ‘come out with your hands up,'” Samuel said. “That was kind of like, just zero to 100.”
Images released by the police show how the incident occurred
A neighbor called the county dispatch on the afternoon of Aug. 1 and reported that a person who was arrested at the home on July 24 had returned in the same car, according to a schedule released by the Wyoming Department of Public Safety.
In the audio of the call issued by the Wyoming police, the caller is heard telling the dispatch that a “young black man” had been arrested the previous week for “squatting” in the house and that his car had been towed. (The police statement said the individual was arrested for trespassing.)
Police said it was a different person than the person who called in the initial incident, but “the person who called was aware of the previous arrest and had seen the arrested individual and his vehicle.” The landlord had asked the caller to keep an eye on the home, police said.
A few minutes later, a Wyoming agent contacted the caller to clarify that it was the same suspect and vehicle from the previous incident. The caller confirmed yes, police said, “adding that two other men showed up and the three individuals had now entered the home.”
Dash cam footage in one of the officers’ vehicles shows police arriving on the scene and ordering people inside the home to come out with their hands in the air. At least two officers are seen approaching the house with their weapons drawn.
The door opens and one of the men comes out with his hands raised, the images show. The three of them leave the house one by one, following the orders of the agents, who tell them to come closer with their hands in the air. The police make each of them (Samuel Thorne’s face is blurry) turn around and interlock their fingers behind their backs before an officer handcuffs them.
Officers are heard in body camera footage explaining that the home had been broken into the previous week, acknowledging that this appeared to be a “misunderstanding.”
Brown is heard explaining to a police officer that he is a real estate agent and he indicates to the police his license inside his wallet. The police officer leads Brown to the door, where he removes the handcuffs while the real estate agent explains how he scheduled the visit and entered the house.
The cops also removed Thorne and her son’s handcuffs after a couple of minutes, and they are heard apologizing to Brown, Thorne and Samuel.
“Don’t report people doing normal things”
Two officers drew their weapons during the incident, according to the Wyoming police statement – one moving around the perimeter of the home’s property and one taking cover near the front.
“When responding to a home invasion in progress with multiple people inside a home, this is standard protocol,” Wyoming police said in their statement.
Police Chief Kimberly Koster approached Brown and offered to meet with the three to discuss the incident, Wyoming police said.
Brown told CNN that a specific time has not been decided, but that they want to have that conversation with the chief of police, with his own attorney present. He added that he feels it is “critical” that Samuel is there as well.
“Clearly,” Brown said, “we want some reforms and some changes here.”
When asked if he had a message for the neighbor who called the police, Thorne told CNN: “We are just like you. We occupy the same space. We do the same things. We go to the same places.”
“And if you see a crime, report it. But if you see people, black, any minority, don’t report people who do normal things,” Thorne said. “You do that, you don’t realize that you can change their lives or take their lives, just by making one phone call. In this case, it could have been three.”
“You could have changed my life, changed my son’s life,” she said.
CNN’s Aya Elamroussi contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism