A Texas police department is apologizing after a typo made while checking a license plate resulted in officers pulling over what they wrongly suspected was a stolen car and then holding an innocent Black family at gunpoint.
Frisco police acknowledged the traffic stop was caused by an officer misreading the car’s license plate. As the officer saw it leaving a hotel in the city north of Dallas, she checked its Arkansas plate as “AZ” for Arizona — but should have run it as “AR."
The driver of the car, her husband and one of the two children being driven by the Arkansas couple to a youth basketball tournament can all be heard sobbing on body camera video posted online by police in Frisco, Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“We made a mistake,” Frisco Police Chief David Shilson said in a statement. “Our department will not hide from its mistakes. Instead, we will learn from them."
The video shows an officer pointing his handgun toward the Dodge Charger as he orders the driver to get out and walk backward toward officers with her hands raised. Also in the car were the woman’s husband, their son and a nephew.
Police order one of the children to step out and lift his shirt. The driver's husband and the other child are told to stay inside and raise their hands through the open windows.
“I’ve never been in trouble a day of my life,” the pleading driver says on the video. "This is scaring the hell out of me.”
The officer who initiated the traffic stop told the driver she was pulled over because her license plate was “associated essentially with no vehicle.”
“Normally, when we see things like this, it makes us believe the vehicle was stolen,” the officer tells the crying woman on the body-camera video.
Frisco police said in their statement Friday that all the department's officers have received guidance stressing the need for accuracy when reporting information. The department said its review will aim to “identify further changes to training, policies and procedures” to prevent future mistakes.
A Frisco police spokesman, officer Joshua Lovell, said the department had no further comment Tuesday, citing the ongoing police review of the traffic stop. He declined to provide a copy of the police incident report to The Associated Press, saying a formal records request would have to be filed for the public information.
On the body-camera video released from the July 23 traffic stop, tensions are heightened briefly when the driver tells police she has a gun locked in her car's glove compartment.
“Occupants of the car, leave your hands outside the car. We know there is a gun in there,” one of the officers holding a handgun shouts at the passengers. “If you reach in that car, you may get shot.”
Civil rights lawyer David Henderson reviewed a video that showed part of the stop and told the Dallas Morning News he thinks the family was profiled, adding that he believes police violated the family's constitutional rights.
A Black woman having a firearm in her vehicle also may have played a role, he said.
“In cases I’ve seen involving people of color who have a license to carry, as soon as they alert the police to the fact that they have a weapon, the police change drastically in terms of how they deal with them,” Henderson said.
More than seven minutes pass before officers on the scene holster their weapons after recognizing their mistake and approach the car.
One of the children keeps his hands on the back of the car as the driver's husband gets out, telling the officers they're travelers from Arkansas and had just finished breakfast before their car was stopped.
“Listen, bro, we’re just here for a basketball tournament,” the sobbing man tells the officers. One of the children can also be heard crying as the man adds: “Y’all pulled a gun on my son for no reason.”
The officers apologize repeatedly, with one saying they responded with guns drawn because it's “the normal way we pull people out of a stolen car.” Another assures the family that they were in no danger because they followed the officers' orders.
“Y’all cooperate, nothing’s going to happen," the officer says. “No one just randomly shoots somebody for no reason, right?”
The officer who initiated the traffic stop and was among those with guns drawn was also Black. She explains that when she checked the license plate, “I ran it as AZ for Arizona instead of AR" for Arkansas.
“This is all my fault, OK," the officer says. "I apologize for this. I know it’s very traumatic for you, your nephew and your son. Like I said, it’s on me.”
The driver's husband is visibly shaken after police explain what happened.
He says that he dropped his phone after the car was pulled over. "If I would have went to reach for my phone, we could’ve all got killed.”
The man then turns away from the officers, walks to the passenger side of the car and bows his head, sobbing loudly.