DENVER (AP) — Police body camera footage and telephone recordings captured an incident in which two Native American teenagers were pulled from a Colorado college tour and questioned after another tour member reported “odd” behavior by “creepy kids.”
The camera footage released Friday by Colorado State University shows two police officers searching the teens’ pockets and questioning whether they were part of the tour.
The officers eventually determined that 19-year-old Thomas Kanewakeron Gray and his 17-year-old brother, Lloyd Skanahwati Gray had done nothing wrong and let them go after about five minutes.
But the incident last Monday has caused an outcry as a case of racial discrimination and prompted the university to apologize and try to make amends.
The video footage shows the brothers — one wearing a T-shirt and the other a hooded sweatshirt — walking in a group and down a set of stairs when an officer approaches and directs them to step aside, saying he and another officer — who is not visible in the video — are going to check the teens’ pockets.
The younger brother has his hands in his pockets, and police officers ask him to take them out.
At first, the officer visible in the video asks the Grays short, focused questions, including whether they were part of the tour group and why they didn’t “cooperate” when others asked them their names.
“The reason we stopped you and talked to you is because someone from the group called and said you guys just kind of came into the group,” the officer said. “They also said they tried to ask you guys questions and you didn’t want to answer questions.”
The older teen quickly responds, explaining that they had arrived late for the tour and that his younger brother is shy. The younger teen offers to retrieve the email confirming their tour reservations.
“Yeah, yeah, do that, and then we’ll get you out of here,” the officer shown in the video said.
The other officer adds: “People were just worried because you guys were real quiet and they didn’t know who you were because you guys didn’t show up with parents or any of that stuff.”
By then, however, their tour group had moved on without them and the brothers left the campus in Fort Collins, a city of about 160,000 and 65 miles (105 kilometers) north of Denver, and returned home to New Mexico.
“I think it’s pretty discriminatory,” Thomas Kanewakeron Gray said Thursday. “Me and my brother just stayed to ourselves the whole time. I guess that was scaring people; that we were just quiet.”
According to a police recording from a woman on the tour that started the incident, the caller told a dispatcher that the teens arrived late in the tour and wouldn’t respond to questions about their names or what they wanted to study at the school.
“They are not, definitely not, a part of the tour,” said the woman, identified in a police report as a 45-year-old white woman from Colorado. “And their behavior is just really odd. And I’ve never called, ever, about anybody. But they joined our tour. They won’t give their names.”
The woman also said during the call that the teens were “lying the whole time,” but doesn’t offer specifics to support the claim, except to say that one of them laughed when she asked what they were studying. She also repeatedly told the dispatcher that her concern could be “completely paranoid” and apologized “if it’s nothing.”
“They’re probably fine and just creepy kids,” she said.
Other than saying the teens were wearing all black clothing with “dark stuff on it,” the caller did not physically describe them until questioned by the dispatcher. She said she believed they were Hispanic, and described their clothing as having a “weird symbolism or wording on it.”
It appears at least one of the brothers was wearing a T-shirt of a death metal band called Cattle Decapitation. On its Facebook page, the band offered the teens “free guest list spots to our shows for life.”
The caller’s name was redacted in the police report, along with the teenagers’ names.
The teens’ mother, Lorraine Gray, said Friday that she remained infuriated over the incident, and questioned the police handling of it, as well as the caller’s decision to report her sons.
“What do their clothes have to do with anything? Why would you be worried about a person’s clothes?” the mother said.
Gray says one of the officers who questioned her sons later told her in a phone call that maybe the incident would teach the teens to “speak up for themselves” in the future.
She said the family has received apologetic messages from the university and an offer to return to the school for a VIP tour. However, she said they are not ready to respond, given that she and her sons have not had the opportunity to fully discuss the situation.
The school also said it would refund the money that the teens spent on travel and take steps to prevent a similar situation from happening again, including the use of lanyards or badges to identify tour guests.
“Two young men, through no fault of their own, wound up frightened and humiliated because another campus visitor was concerned about their clothes and overall demeanor, which appears to have simply been shyness. The very idea that someone — anyone — might ‘look’ like they don’t belong on a CSU Admissions tour is anathema,” university president Tony Frank wrote in an email to students and staff Friday.
The younger son is a senior at Santa Fe Indian School, which is about a 30-minute drive from the family home and where he stays in a dorm during the week with other Native American students from tribes across the United States.
The older brother is a student at Northern New Mexico College in Espanola and hoped to transfer.
The siblings saved until they had enough money to drive the roughly seven hours from the family’s home in Santa Cruz, New Mexico, to Fort Collins for the tour.
The older brother said the school was their first choice, because of its proximity to Denver, where they could attend concerts. The brothers, both Mohawk, are musicians, and study contemporary and traditional music.
The brothers’ ordeal marks the latest in a series of incidences nationwide spotlighting treatment minorities often face in everyday circumstances, including the arrest of two black men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia who were handcuffed and taken to jail after a worker said they had refused to buy anything or leave.
Hudetz reported from Albuquerque, New Mexico