A 28-year-old Black man who was detained by Volusia County Sheriff’s officers for allegedly matching the description of a suspect while jogging in a predominantly white neighborhood is set to help the department with bias training after turning down a job offer from them.
The August 27 incident occurred in the Deltona neighborhood in Florida when Joseph Griffin was stopped by an officer searching for a burglary suspect, CNN reports. In the video of the incident, the officer is seen explaining to Griffin why he has been stopped.
“Hey Buddy, you’re not in any trouble or anything. There’s a burglary that happened … you kind of fit the description … Let me just make sure that you’re not him,” the officer tells him.
A visually startled Griffin tells the officer he’s a veteran and shows him his ID after asking, “Really?” During the encounter, the officer reiterates he’s not saying Griffin is the suspect albeit he admits he matches the description: “Literally they said, white tank top, black shorts and they said that you had a beard.”
Griffin later starts filming the incident on Facebook Live while the officer communicates with his colleagues. Later, the officer tells Griffin he’ll have to detain – not arrest – him upon orders from his sergeant, to which Griffin responds and says: “I just had a daughter born two days ago so just have this on [Facebook] Live.”
While handcuffed and on the ground, Griffin is heard telling the officer and his colleagues who later responded to the scene, “If something happens to me, you all better raise hell.” He was eventually released and cleared. The real suspect was also later arrested.
Speaking to CNN, Griffin said he believes the first part of the suspect description – Black male – made him a target.
“I don’t believe they just stopped me because I’m Black. There was a description. The scary thing is that witness descriptions are just never 100% accurate. And to have your future and life of that not accurate witness description is very scary,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said he understands the officers were doing their job, but “nobody likes being put in cuffs.”
Sheriff Mike Chitwood also told CNN:
We knew we were going to get beat up, criticized a bit because there were several officers there. It never looks good. But then I was shown the body camera video. I watched the video. Mr. Griffin was great with my deputies. And my deputies were extremely professional. I called each and every one of them to thank them for their professionalism. I called Mr. Griffin, too, and thanked him for how he handled the situation. When you get stopped by police this is how to act. This really is a teachable moment. We can learn from each other.
Chitwood also said he spoke to Griffin in the aftermath of the incident and asked him to help the department with bias training.
“I learned that Mr. Griffin was a former military police officer. I asked if he would come in and do trainings with our entire staff. He was surprised about it and agreed. Due to Covid-19, we can only train 20 people at a time. We will start trainings early October and keep doing it,” he said, also revealing that he offered Griffin a job with the sheriff’s department – which he turned down.
“I also offered him a job. We have 40 openings now. But he declined that offer, saying he had a job in health care.”
Griffin said the bias training is a “big opportunity” he feels “could help change the relationship between policing and the community, on both sides.”
Griffin’s story is similar to that of Mathias Ometu’s, but the latter – also innocent – wasn’t as fortunate. The 33-year-old Nigerian-American was also jogging on August 25 when he was stopped by San Antonio police officers who were on the lookout for a domestic violence suspect.
The officers, who claimed he matched the description of the suspect, handcuffed him and attempted putting him in the back of the squad car after he refused to provide his identity, WKRC reports.
“I was told to calm down, but there’s nothing calm about placing an innocent man in the back of a police vehicle,” he said. “I was guilty before proven innocent.”
Ometu got into a scuffle with the officers as they attempted forcing him into the squad car. He was later arrested and charged for assaulting the officers and spent two days in jail. The charges were later dropped but Ometu and his lawyer claim he was detained that long because he was appointed an attorney who had passed away.
“When I was told I had the honor of representing Mr. Ometu, I was not aware that (Mr. Ometu) had already spent two days in jail and having been appointed an attorney that had passed away many years ago,” attorney Adam Kobs said, according to WKRC. “That started a chain of events that shouldn’t have happened.”
The real suspect was also later arrested.