A Black man said thoughts of George Floyd’s fatal police encounter went through his head as he sat in the back of a squad car last week in Bloomington after three white officers pulled him over and approached him briefly with a gun drawn.
Darrius Strong posted a video on Facebook soon after the encounter saying “I could have been dead today” during what began as a traffic stop along Old Shakopee Road. “Just remember … anything can happen to us, man, especially Black bodies … Black people, Black men. … Racial profiling is a thing.”
Police released Strong after they realized they had the wrong man, and on Saturday night the Richfield Police Department issued an apology on Facebook saying he was victim of an “unfortunate case of mistaken identity.”
On Monday, Richfield police released squad car dashcam footage that showed a cordial encounter for the entire 14-minute stop Friday afternoon between the officers and Strong, who questioned why he was being arrested before police realized their mistake, apologized and let him go.
Strong, 30, of Burnsville, said after watching the police video that he had a faulty recollection “because I had so much fear in me” when he contended in a Facebook video soon after the encounter that all the officers had their guns drawn.
“My mind was so jumbled,” he added. “I just wanted people to know how frightened I was.”
The discrepancies between Strong’s initial account and the dashcam video prompted the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association to caution citizens against mischaracterizing interactions with police.
“There are clear differences between Mr. Strong’s earlier Facebook video and both the officer report and [Monday’s] released dash camera video,” Association Executive Director Brian Peters said in a statement. “Based on the video evidence released, Mr. Strong was treated with respect, and the officers followed all of their trainings and procedures.”
Strong’s public account of his detention by police comes at a time of intense scrutiny of police encounters, particularly involving Black men. The police killing of Floyd during a routine arrest created weeks of protests and has prompted Minneapolis city officials to look at a dramatic rethinking of the police department and the best way to ensure public safety.
Richfield police released squad dashboard camera video Monday in an effort “to promote transparency” about the speeding stop led by one of their officers as part of a state traffic enforcement campaign.
The video showed that Strong was calm, albeit surprised, when told he was wanted for felony check forgery and about to be taken to jail. At the same time, Richfield officer Amanda Johnson and the others remained polite throughout and apologetic once the mistaken identity was cleared up.
“Shoot,” Johnson said while reviewing the warrant information as Strong sat behind her. “This might be the wrong guy. ... Yep, exact same name.”
Another officer retrieved Strong’s identification from the car as he gave police his Social Security number and said he doesn’t write checks.
“That guy has a tattoo on his neck,” Johnson said in reference to the actual at-large felony suspect.
“So sorry,” she said to Strong.
He replied: “I appreciate your kindness.”
“You are free to go,” she said. “I am sorry. ... Have a better day.”
Richfield Police Lt. Brad Drayna said the video showed that “it was a very cordial encounter. It was a very professional traffic stop.”
Drayna said that despite the check accurately showing that Strong was driving on a suspended license in connection with a 2019 speeding ticket, Johnson chose let him drive off because she “felt sorry for putting him in the back of her squad car.” She also didn’t cite him for going more than 15 mph over the 35 mph limit, Drayna said.
Strong, a prominent figure in the Twin Cities dance community, is a performer, choreographer and instructor who was awarded a $40,000 Jerome Foundation fellowship last year. The fiancé and father of a 1-year-old who lives in Burnsville said in his video that all of the officers approached his car with “their guns out. [I] stuck my hands out the damn car.”
However, video showed only Johnson with her gun out and down at her side. She put it back in the holster once she arrived at his driver’s window.
Addressing why Johnson had her gun drawn, the Richfield police statement explained that it’s justified because of “the high-risk nature of arresting individuals with felony-level warrants.”
Once cuffed and in the back of the squad car, Strong’s posting continued, “I’m shaking. … I don’t know what they gonna do to me when this door closes. … George Floyd came to my head, I ain’t gonna lie. He came to my head thinking about … when they put him in the back and they was doing all kinds of things to him.”
He said he questioned the officers about why — as he contended — they had their guns drawn, and was told he was under arrest and would have his vehicle towed because he was wanted for check forgery. However, the video didn’t reveal any question like that from Strong.
“Once again, George Floyd popped into my head,” his Facebook posting recounted.
Floyd, unarmed and handcuffed, died while in police detention on May 25 at a south Minneapolis intersection. Police were called there on a store clerk’s suspicion that Floyd was trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.
Once confirmed that Strong was not a wanted felon, the tow truck was canceled about 12 minutes after the stop began, according to emergency dispatch audio, and police let him out of the squad car and took off the handcuffs.
“A Black man traveling in these suburban communities ... it could have ended in a whole different route,” Strong said in his posting.
The police statement noted that “this was no doubt a stressful and emotional experience for Mr. Strong. While they were doing their jobs based on what they knew at the time of the traffic stop, officers regret the stress Mr. Strong felt.”
The statement added that all three departments will “make sure Mr. Strong’s record is cleared and will continue to have important conversations in our communities regarding police-citizen encounters and how they need to reflect the best of all involved.”
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482