ACLU-DC Asserts “Running While Black” Resulted in Unconstitutional Search of Homeowner’s Backyard

August 10, 2020 11:30 am

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WASHINGTON — In a brief filed today in Price v. Gupton, the ACLU of the District of Columbia asked a federal court to rule that D.C. police violated the Constitution when they searched the yards of six private homes based on the fact that a young Black man wearing a white T-shirt was seen running through one of those yards. According to the ACLU-DC’s brief, the case raises a legal question “with significant implications” for “the experience of Black men in this city and this nation”: does running while Black make a man inherently suspicious?

The ACLU-DC represents Denise Price, one of the homeowners whose yard was searched by an officer of the Metropolitan Police Department.

On the evening of May 11, 2018, MPD received a 911 tip about a group of about five young Black men in possession of real or toy guns (the caller wasn’t sure) approximately a half-mile from Price’s home. The men were reported as wearing white T-shirts; no other identifying information was given, and no injury was witnessed. According to the tip, the five men departed the area together in a white car.

MPD dispatch announced a lookout for the white car with five Black men wearing white T-shirts, possibly armed with guns that may been toys. A few minutes after the lookout was announced, MPD Sgt. Shavaun Ross witnessed a young Black man in a white T-shirt, blue jeans, with “a hi-top fade” haircut and wearing ski goggles on this forehead running through the yard adjacent to Price’s belonging to her daughter, Presshea Johnson. Sgt. Ross relayed the description of this young man to Officer (now Sergeant) Joshua Gupton and his partner Officer David Whitehead via radio; she did not say this individual had a gun or mention a white car.

Sgt. Ross’s lookout only matched the suspect in the 911 tip in a superficial way. Nonetheless, Gupton and Whitehead barged into six yards across two streets on the hunch that they might find a gun. They never did.

The person Sgt. Ross actually saw was likely Price’s grandson, Kevaughn Walker, a Black teenage boy with a hi-top fade who that day was wearing a white T-shirt, jeans, and ski goggles around his head. At the time Sgt. Ross drove by his home, Walker was with a friend in his backyard. The officers did not question Walker or any of the other Black men in white T-shirts in the vicinity and ignored Price’s repeated pleas to leave her property.

“That search, and the officer’s disrespectful attitude towards me and my family, still hurts to this day,” says Price. “MPD can’t treat people like this and not be held accountable for their actions.”

“The conduct we are challenging is emblematic of the larger problem of how Black people are treated in D.C. and in this country,” says Michael Perloff, Attorney, ACLU-DC. “There is no simpler illustration of the D.C. police department’s presumption of suspicion regarding young Black men than that the sight of a Black teenager wearing a white T-shirt, running while playing in his own backyard, that led police officers to flagrantly violate D.C. residents’ constitutional rights. It is inconceivable that the police would have viewed a white teenager with suspicion in these same circumstances.”

Today’s motion for partial summary judgement in Price v. Gupton seeks a legal ruling that Officer Gupton violated Price’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and committed a trespass. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The motion and more details about the case can be found here: https://www.acludc.org/en/cases/price-v-gupton-challenging-warrantless-search-residential-property-belonging-mother-whose-son

This press release can be found here: https://www.acludc.org/en/news/aclu-dc-asserts-running-while-black-resulted-unconstitutional-search-homeowners-backyard

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