WATCH: White officer threatens to arrest 2 black shoppers for 'acting suspicious'
Indiana - Aaron Blackwell and his cousin Durell Cunningham had no idea why the Nordstrom Rack security guard was striding purposefully toward their car. It didn't make sense, Blackwell would later recall. The man had watched the pair pay for their items inside the Indianapolis store, yet he still followed them outside and tried to take down their license plate number. Now, he was demanding Cunningham present his driver's license.
"You're acting suspicious," the man told the cousins, who are both black. If he didn't see identification soon, the man threatened to tow their car, or worse, have them arrested.
The tense standoff that played out last week in the parking lot outside the Nordstrom Rack was captured in a 17-minute cellphone video that has since gone viral, sparking accusations that the two men were racially profiled by the white security guard, who was later identified as Lawrence Township deputy constable Daryl Jones. The video was posted to YouTube on November 13 and Lawrence Township chief constable Terry Burns told RTV6 he "made the decision immediately" to fire Jones, ousting the veteran law enforcement officer that night. Jones, who was off-duty at the time of the incident, is also no longer employed at the store, NBC News reported Tuesday.
By early Wednesday, the YouTube video had more than 350,000 views and 2,000-plus comments. Blackwell, who recorded and shared the clip, told WTHR he has been contacted by people nationwide, expressing concern and outrage over what happened to him and his cousin.
"I have support from a lot of people, and some of them are even other law enforcement officers," he said. "So I don't want people to think that all cops are bad or he represents all officers. There are some really good officers out there who would never treat people that way."
The saga began November 12, when Cunningham brought Blackwell to the Nordstrom Rack just north of Indianapolis for some shopping, describing himself as "a loyal customer" to that store, according to the video. But as the two men perused the merchandise, Blackwell sensed something was off - they were being watched.
"The whole time this guy is standing in there staring at us," Blackwell said in the video. "I'm like, 'Cuz, this security's really beaming on us.' "
Jones lingered nearby while the men checked out, racking up a bill that totaled more than $1,000, Blackwell wrote in the caption of the YouTube video. Then, the officer trailed them to their car.
That's when Jones attempted to jot down their license plate number, the men say, prompting them to drive to the front of the Nordstrom Rack where Blackwell pulled out his cellphone and started recording.
"I want to be in front of the store if he pulls me over," Cunningham says in the video.
An unmarked white car can be seen slowly approaching from the opposite direction, coming to a stop near Cunningham and Blackwell. Jones gets out and makes a beeline for the two men, ordering Cunningham to get out his driver's license.
The men push back, repeatedly asking Jones why he needs to see identification.
"Because I told you to," the deputy constable responds. He later says, "Because you want to run your mouth to me."
The situation escalates when one man tells Jones he doesn't have the right to run the car's license plate.
"I got my rights to do anything I want to do," Jones yells, leaning into the open driver's window. "I'm a police officer."
Jones warns the men that if he doesn't see a driver's license he'll tow their car, at one point even threatening, "I'm going to lock you up."
Throughout the exchange, Cunningham and Blackwell keep pressing Jones to explain why he stopped them, learning only that he believed they were behaving in a "suspicious" manner.
About five minutes into the video, Jones calls for backup and soon an officer from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department shows up.
"These guys were inside there," Jones says to the officer. "They got a bunch of stuff. Then, they run their mouth to me as they were leaving, trying to make sure I didn't get their license plate and then he didn't want to show me ID."
The Indianapolis police officer starts to ask Jones questions.
Are the two men suspected of stealing anything? "They bought a bunch of stuff."
What infraction are they accused of committing? "Suspicious behavior."
What was suspicious? "He was calling me out in my car."
Cunningham immediately interrupts to clarify that he never called Jones anything, adding that he had just asked why the law enforcement officer wanted his license plate information. The cousins quickly recap their version of the events to the Indianapolis police officer, and once they finish, the officer takes Jones out of earshot and talks to him for a couple minutes.
"You're free to go," Jones tells Cunningham and Blackwell shortly after, barely pausing to deliver the message.
After Jones leaves, the men speak to the IMPD officer again, further detailing their experience and accusing the deputy constable of profiling them.
"As far as I know, based upon what happened, I don't think either of us have any reasonable suspicion to believe there's a crime taking place," the officer says. "There's no reason for a traffic stop at this point, so there's no legal requirement for you to identify yourself."
A spokesperson for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department told RTV6 that an officer did respond to the scene on the afternoon of Nov. 12 but no report was filed.
One day later, Blackwell uploaded footage of the exchange to YouTube, titling the video, "Harassed by low-life racist cop for spending big money!"
Burns, the Lawrence Township chief constable, told NBC that he fired Jones within two hours of watching the clip. Jones could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
Still, Blackwell said, he isn't entirely satisfied with the outcome.
"This is not just about me or my cousin, or even just this city," he said in a YouTube video shared Monday. "It's about how things have been and how things cannot continue to be, so we're going to push and we're going to fight for everybody."The Washington Post