Men held at gunpoint by Fresno police
Dorian Johnson's uncle asked for a ride on Monday so he could get the latest iPhone.
Soon after that, Johnson was held at gunpoint by Fresno police demanding he crawl on his stomach out of the T-Mobile store on Blackstone Avenue just north of Shaw Avenue.
Video captured by his uncle, Vincent Lemar, shows Johnson, 26, obeying officers' orders, face down, using only his fingers and feet to inch toward them on the sidewalk, while at least one officer points a gun down at him. His girlfriend, Gloria Bush, is seen screaming from the parking lot, asking what's going on.
She said she dropped the men off at the store just before noon and went to buy donuts and chocolate milk for the couple's two children. When she returned, she was shocked by the scene.
"All I saw was guns pointed at my babies' daddy, and he was on the ground. I didn't know if they had already shot him," Bush, 23, of Fresno, told The Bee Friday. "I said, 'Tell me what's going on. I know he's a good man. I know he wasn't here with bad intentions."
The men put the blame on store workers for racially profiling them, and say nothing they did hinted at a potential robbery.
T-Mobile issued a statement Friday evening: "The safety and comfort of our customers, our TPR dealers and their employees is paramount to us. We are taking this incident very seriously and are actively investigating to determine exactly what occurred. Though we have found no evidence that the employees acted improperly, we would take definitive action if we did."
In the video, Johnson is heard shouting at Bush from the ground. He sounds panicked.
"Calm down babe, let them do what they gotta do," he says, as an officer with a gun drawn tells him to "keep coming."
The video cuts out after police order Lemar to come out of the store with his hands up, but the audio is still on.
An officer is heard asking Johnson if he has a gun on him. He doesn't.
"What are you guys doing in there?" one officer asks.
"Just trying to get a new phone," Lemar replies.
The officers tell Bush to stay back. "Wait a second and we'll explain, OK," the officer says.
Another officer says, "We got called here, OK, we didn’t just randomly show up here."
Ultimately, police detained and handcuffed Johnson and Lemar but did not make an arrest. Police were responding to a 911 call from the shopping center's security company about a potential robbery in progress at the store. But Johnson and Lemar said they had no intentions of robbing anyone, and had no weapons.
Johnson was on his way to work at the Foster Farms processing plant, and had his ID badge around his neck — something he says a criminal trying to get away with robbery wouldn't do. Lemar was looking to get a credit check at the store to get a quote on how much money he would have to put down for a phone, and had given an employee his ID, he said.
The men, who are black, say there's only one explanation for the 911 call — their race.
"I don't see what made them call and what would have given them the suspicion that they were going to get robbed. We weren't up to anything," Johnson said. "It's just crazy. I don't understand. Nobody not once came and apologized for what happened."
Johnson cried on Friday retelling the story, pointing to national incidents of unarmed black men being shot by police. He also pointed to recent stories of people wrongly calling the police on black men, like at a Starbucks in Philadelphia last month, which led to national calls to boycott the company.
"I was just watching videos about that stuff the other day. To be in the same situation myself, it just scared the (expletive) out of me," Johnson said through tears. "Every time I think about it I get teary-eyed. It was the day before my 3-year-old daughter's birthday."
Johnson acknowledged that one of the two employees was a man of color. But he and Lemar believe they were racially profiled.
"This was racial profiling at its finest. Prejudice in its precipice," Lemar said on Facebook. "And T-Mobile should do something about this highly uncalled for but totally avoidable misunderstanding."
Lemar commended Fresno police officers' response, saying that "no one was hurt" and they were merely responding to what they thought was a robbery in progress.
Dennis Bridges, Fresno police acting deputy chief, reviewed officers' body cams on Friday and said they responded appropriately with the little information they had.
He said that at one point on the 911 call, a security officer said that the store was being robbed. And when a 911 dispatcher called the store, no one answered.
"The officers were going into it with limited information," Bridges said. "It would be like how they would respond if a robbery alarm button was pushed and when they called the business back, they didn't get an answer. They could assume they didn't answer because they were being robbed."
Bridges confirmed at least four officers responded to the scene, and that in this case, requiring the suspect to crawl to them was the right thing to do.
"There was no force used other than verbal. The safe thing to do is to have them on the ground and have them crawl to us, instead of have officers go to them, because that exposes them from their cover," he said.
Bridges also said that the store had been robbed before.
Bush said her family is on edge thinking of what could have happened. "All the time, (Johnson) says, 'babe, look at this video. Look at how they did that black man.' When I saw all these white cops having guns to his face, that's the first thing that came to mind. I thank God he's not dead but we never thought it would happen to us."
Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays