On Nov. 7, the owner of a Menchie’s frozen yogurt shop in Kirkland called police about Byron Ragland, a 31-year-old black man who was in the store supervising an outing between a mother and her son.
The Kirkland Police Department apologized Monday for an incident in which officers helped the owner of a frozen-yogurt shop expel an African-American man from the business because employees said they felt uncomfortable.
The Seattle Times on Friday night published a column detailing a Nov. 7 incident in which the owner of a Menchie’s frozen yogurt shop in Kirkland called police about Byron Ragland, a 31-year-old black man who was in the shop supervising a court-sanctioned outing between a mother and her son. Ragland works as a court-appointed special advocate and visitation supervisor, according to the column.
Officers responded and, despite there being no evidence that Ragland was doing anything wrong, they took down his personal information and told him that the owner wanted him to leave. Ragland left without incident.
Outrage over the incident prompted the Kirkland police to announce an internal investigation into the incident to determine if “proper protocol” had been followed. On Monday, the city announced it had reached “preliminary findings” in the investigation and issued an apology to Ragland and the people of Kirkland.
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However, the department would not say if policies or laws were violated and a spokesperson would not talk about the officers’ behavior, saying the investigation was not complete.
“Our initial assessment showed that the interaction that occurred did not meet the expectations of our community or the high standards we set for ourselves,” Kirkland Police Chief Cherie Harris and City Manager Kurt Triplett said in a joint statement. “As a result, Mr. Ragland and the other individuals with him were left feeling unwelcome in Kirkland. No one regrets this more than the men and women of the Kirkland Police Department. We are truly sorry.”
“What didn’t meet our standards is that at the end of the interaction Mr. Ragland leaves feeling unwelcome in Kirkland and we know overall the picture of that interaction does not meet the standards of what our community expects of us,” Kirkland police spokeswoman Kellie Stickney said. “We’re apologizing for how our Police Department handled the events.”
The department will “evaluate our policies and practices, and change what needs to fixed,” the statement said, without elaborating.
The incident follows a series of high profile incidents in which African-American patrons were singled out at businesses for apparently no other reason than their race. Starbucks apologized after two African-American men were arrested at a store in Philadelphia last spring, and Nordstrom officials also reached out after an incident in St. Louis.
The owner of the Kirkland yogurt shop, Ramon Cruz, called police on Ragland after his employees called him to report that they were “kind of scared because he looks suspicious. He just keeps looking at the phone and looking at them,” according to audio of Cruz’s 911 call. The call-taker told Cruz officers could come “tell him to move along,” according to the audio.
Police arrived and requested Ragland’s “full information” and the names of the woman and boy he was with, according to a police report. Ragland, a nine-year Air Force veteran, told officers the request to leave was “not necessary,” but left the store without incident or complaining. The Seattle Times learned about the incident through a tip.
“You listen to that 911 call. He says right in there that I’m not doing anything,” Ragland told Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat. “But that’s all it takes in America — for you to be black, and to be somewhere you’re not supposed to be. And where you’re supposed to be is not up to you. It’s up to somebody else’s opinion.”
The two officers who responded remain on patrol, Stickney said. Ragland did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
However, the King County Seattle office of the NAACP said Ragland will attend a protest outside the Menchies in Kirkland at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Cruz, the owner of the yogurt shop, and Menchie’s corporate offices in Encino, California, each released apology statements Monday. “This does not reflect our values, and we are genuinely sorry,” the company said.
Cruz said in an interview he had previously encouraged employees to call the police if they felt uncomfortable but will now instruct them to call him. Cruz said he will then visit the store and determine whether to call police, he said.
Michele Storms, deputy director of the ACLU of Washington, said in an email that it is “discrimination for a business and the police to treat wholly innocent behavior as ‘suspicious’ based on the color of the person’s skin.”
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a policing research organization, said high-profile instances of the police being called on people of color are causing some law-enforcement agencies to “put more focus on the call takers.” Emergency dispatchers may be trained to ask more specific questions about a person’s behavior to help determine whether a crime has been committed, Wexler said.
Wexler said the issue reflects a “broader question in society about why various citizens feel the need to call the police because someone makes them uncomfortable.”
“Why has that person made them uncomfortable? That’s where the implicit bias begins,” he said. “Then, police are put in this position. On one hand, you want to be responsive; on the other hand, you don’t want to be part of someone else’s bias.”
If a business owner is asking police to require someone to leave, officers should look for specific store policies or laws the person violated, said Sgt. Kent Hitchings, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol Training Division, who said he was not speaking specifically about the incident in Kirkland.
“Just ‘I don’t like that person being in here’ doesn’t rise to the level of making them leave,” Hitchings said.
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