FARGO — A 19-year-old teenager said at a press conference on Tuesday, July 7, at Island Park that he believes he was a victim of racial profiling and was illegally searched and detained.
Larry Pope, who appeared with his parents and leaders of the OneFargo organization, said he was simply leaving his girlfriend's apartment and heading to work about 1:30 p.m. on June 22 when he was stopped by two officers in south Fargo.
The Black teen said one of the officers "yanked" his string bag off of his back and told him to "shut up and put my hands up."
They then searched his bag, which he said only contained four Gatorades, and grabbed his girlfriend's keys from him and said they were "confiscating them because they aren't yours."
When he asked the officers why he was being stopped, Pope said they told him that he "looked suspicious."
And then one officer added, "only thugs wear string bags."
Pope, who has epilepsy, said he was having trouble speaking to the officers with the battery that is in his chest to help him control his condition and decided to sit down.
The officers told him to get up, but they then returned his items to him.
When asked why police were in the area, Pope said they were watching vehicles that were being illegally parked around his girlfriend's apartment building.
Wess Philome, one of the leaders of the city racial equality group called OneFargo and a family friend of the Popes, said they have been waiting for more than two weeks to get the names of the two officers involved in the incident.
No response had been given, Phillome said, until this past Monday when police told them they needed additional time.
He said it seems like police should easily know who was on duty at that time and that an internal investigation should be done by an outside body.
"Justice can't be assured when police continue to investigate themselves," Philome said. "Police can't do a just investigation of themselves."
Police spokeswoman Jessica Schindeldecker said in a Facebook post that because the Popes have filed a formal complaint it was a "current and active investigation, therefore it is not appropriate to comment at this time because the investigation is not complete.
"Our department takes all complaints seriously and will hold our officers accountable should they be found in wrongdoing," she wrote.
Schindeldecker said they would share more information regarding the complaint once the investigation is complete.
Philome said to help in such situations in the future that Mayor Tim Mahoney should put money in next year's budget for body cameras for all of the officers and also that a representative of their organization should be on the committee that will be involved in the selection process of the next police chief.
Chief David Todd is retiring at the end of July and a committee will be announced this week to help in the selection process, including participating in interviews with the finalists.
Pope, meanwhile, said his parents moved him here about two years ago from Florida in hopes that they would avoid such an incident.
He said after the incident he was "scared and frightened" and messaged his mother about it when he got to work. Later that night, his parents called him and asked him what happened.