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Clearwater police investigating after father posts Facebook tirade over treatment of black teen

Clearwater police have spoken to a father who says his teen son was mistreated, telling him they have opened an investigation. [Facebook]
Published May 20

CLEARWATER — A father who said his 16-year-old son was handcuffed and searched by a Clearwater police officer because the child is black called the department racist in a Facebook post that has gone viral. Now police are looking into the incident.

The incident started Monday when the teen crossed the road without using a crosswalk. It exploded on social media after a user named Chico Powell took to Facebook on Tuesday to say the police officer harassed his son, leaving the boy in tears.

The Tampa Bay Times is not identifying the boy because of his age.

"No matter how good we try to live our lives y'all only gone see us as one thing," Powell wrote, "but guess what y'all gotta another thing coming cause he got a dad that cares and we'll see y'all in court."

The post had been shared more than 22,000 times and had about 12,000 comments as of Friday morning. Powell said in a Facebook comment to the Times that he was still gathering information about what happened and declined to comment.

Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter said the agency learned of the incident from the Facebook post. Since then, department officials have spoken to the boy's father and told him they have opened an investigation.

"I've got to get to the bottom of it and got to get the details on what the officer's motivations were," Slaughter said. "I think people know this department well enough that we wouldn't tolerate making stops based on race ... but we're going to look into the circumstances."

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The following account is from the police report written by Officer Joshua Gibson, the white officer who initiated the encounter with the black teen:

Gibson said he stopped the teen at about 10:05 p.m. Monday because he crossed the road near the intersection of N Garden Avenue and N Myrtle Avenue without using a crosswalk. Gibson said he flipped on the emergency lights in his marked police cruiser and chirped the siren to let the teen know he was trying to stop him.

The teen took an earbud out of his ear and replied: "What?" The officer told him he needed to use the crosswalk. The teen said okay.

Gibson then asked the teen to come to his cruiser. The boy asked why, then put his hands in the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt and started to back away, the officer said. Gibson again told him to come to his cruiser, but said the teen kept backing away.

The officer then reached out and grabbed the teen. The 16-year-old "braced, tensed and pulled away ... in an attempt to defeat my grasp," Gibson said, so he pushed him against the side of the cruiser and requested back-up. The teen kept resisting, Gibson said, so he put him in handcuffs.

The officer said he asked the teen why he was trying to get away and if "he had anything on him that he wasn't supposed have." The teen said no and said the officer could check for himself.

Gibson searched the teen and found nothing illegal, according to the report. The 16-year-old was wearing a green shirt and an apron under his hoodie. He worked at Publix and was on his way home, according to the father's Facebook post.

The officer said he explained to the teen that disobeying law enforcement can be considered resisting without violence. The teen started crying, said he understood and apologized several times, the officer said. The teen asked the officer to call his mom and tell her what happened.

The officer said he did not cite or arrest the teen "because he was cooperative, and I located no contraband on him. I provided him a verbal warning."

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at kvarn@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.

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