A seven-minute video of a confrontation between a white Edina police officer and a black man who said he was merely walking on the edge of the road is sparking outrage across the country.
Edina police maintained that the man was defiant and didn’t stop Wednesday when asked to do so by an officer.
The man, Larnie B. Thomas, 34, of Minneapolis, was later cited for disorderly conduct and pedestrian failure to obey a traffic signal, and was released.
Janet Rowles, who filmed the confrontation, said she drove by Thomas in the 5900 block of Xerxes Avenue S. as he was walking on the white line dividing the road’s shoulder from the traffic lane. She assumed he was detouring around the sidewalk, which was under construction.
Rowles stopped her vehicle, she said, to film the plainclothes police officer, Lt. T.F. Olson, as he grabbed the back of Thomas’ jacket.
“I’m not against the police,” she said in an interview Friday. “I was against what he was doing.”
In the video, the situation escalates quickly as Thomas becomes agitated and swears at Olson, questioning why he’s being detained.
Olson, who speaks calmly, directs Thomas to his unmarked squad, asking him to put his hands on the car. Thomas slams his backpack down and asks whether he’s going to be taken to jail.
Rowles, who works as a mediator, said she stopped to watch and film because she “was watching something that I didn’t think was very fair.”
Rowles said Thomas wasn’t upset with the officer at first but grew more agitated during the incident.
“I don’t fault him for being agitated,” she said. “I’m a mediator, and I see people all the time be upset in ways that aren’t very pretty. We’re human. It’s the job of the police to deal with it in a good manner, not the [one] who is being falsely accused.”
In the video, when Thomas asks Olson why he’s being stopped, the officer tells him it’s because “you’re walking down the middle of the street.”
As the confrontation continues, Thomas apparently wiggles out of his jacket and then his shirt. He is bare-chested when another unmarked squad arrives and Olson handcuffs Thomas’ hands behind his back. Thomas is then put in the squad car.
The YouTube video, which Rowles posted on Wednesday, has been viewed and shared tens of thousands of times. It’s accompanied by hundreds of comments from people writing that they were outraged over a black man being arrested after walking in the street because construction had closed the nearby sidewalk.
Edina police released this statement on the city’s website:
“Recognizing the risk to the safety of the public, the officer pulled in behind the man with his lights and an audible signal in an attempt to advise him to get out of the roadway. The man, who was wearing headphones, turned and looked at the officer and continued walking in the lane of traffic,” the statement reads.
“The officer smelled alcohol on the man’s breath during the incident. A breathalyzer later confirmed the presence of alcohol,” the statement continues.
Acknowledging that it’s within a bystander’s right to film officer interactions, the police statement cautioned that citizens should not interact with an officer or a suspect.
The statement drew hundreds of angry comments from people, many of them saying that the officer could have handled the situation better and avoided the confrontation.
Rowles said she felt it was her responsibility to advocate for Thomas and film the encounter, believing that it could have gotten worse if she hadn’t. He didn’t appear to be doing anything wrong while walking along the road, she said.
“I worry about these relationships that [the police are] destroying,” Rowles said. “It calls for extra patience.”
Staff writer Beatrice Dupuy contributed to this report.