In an interview with Good Morning America, a 12-year-old boy opened up about a recent encounter his family labeled as “traumatic” after he was wrongfully detained and handcuffed by Lansing, Michigan police during a car theft investigation.
Tashawn Bernard’s father said the August 10 incident occurred after he asked his son to dispose of trash outside their apartment, adding that he later watched outside and noticed Tashawn in the midst of police officers. The pre-teen’s dad said that was after he realized his son was still outdoors.
“I saw police around him, so I dropped what I had in my hand … and rushed downstairs,” the 12-year-old’s father, Michael Bernard, recalled. “So I say, ‘why you have my son in handcuffs? What’s the problem?'”
The officers eventually released Tashawn after detaining and placing him in handcuffs, but a viral video that was taken during the incident and shared on social media showed the 12-year-old looking visibly frightened.
“When it happened, I was really, like, shocked and frightened about like the situation, and how it happened,” Tashawn said.
In the wake of the incident, the Lansing Police Department released a statement saying what happened was an “unfortunate misunderstanding.” The department said that at the time the incident occurred, its officers were “investigating a string of Kia thefts, including a specific one reported on the 3600 block of W. Jolly Road with multiple suspects.”
The statement said that a witness described a suspect as wearing neon shorts and a white shirt, prompting a responding officer to try and make contact with a subject who matched the description. The subject is said to have fled towards a nearby apartment complex.
“A different officer was in the area and saw the young man pictured in the viral video wearing a very similar outfit and made contact with him,” the statement said. “The initial officer was able to respond and clarify the young man in the video was not the suspect who fled earlier.”
The statement also said Tashawn was eventually released after the information from the initial officer was obtained. “Community relations is a top priority for us as a department, from top-down,” the statement added. “Our hope is we can put this unfortunate case of ‘wrong place, wrong time’ behind us and continue to represent the community that we serve.”
Although Lansing police also provided blurred photos of both individuals, the attorney for the Bernard family told Good Morning America that Tashawn was in a “light gray or a light bluish” shirt – not a white one.
“This has been a traumatic experience for Tashawn and his family,” attorney Rico Neal said. “This has been an experience that Tashawn and his family will live with for the rest of his life.”.
In a statement on Friday, Lansing Police Department Chief Ellery Sosebee said he had reviewed the incident and “can confirm the officer who contacted and detained the young man was respectful and professional during his investigation.”
“As the Chief of Police, I want to apologize that this incident had such an effect on this young man and his family,” Sosebee added. “I’m asking for the community to consider all the facts of the situation before making a judgment. The relationship with our community has been and will continue to be a top priority for the Lansing Police Department.”
The Bernard family, however, told Good Morning America that they are maintaining all available options, including the possibility of taking legal action. “I want justice for my son,” Bernard said. “In this time and era in America, I am still scared for anything to happen to my son.”
Lansing police says it hopes to “put this unfortunate case of wrong place, wrong time” behind them after they detained a teenager who was throwing out the trash https://t.co/1RFKpm8TY1 pic.twitter.com/6BBkQGNjsT— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) August 11, 2023