By JIM SALTER, Associated Press
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The city manager and police chief in a suburban St. Louis town apologized Thursday to a group of Black college students after police wrongly accused them of a dine-and-dash and used several squad cars to escort them back to a restaurant.
Clayton city manager Craig Owens said he and chief Kevin Murphy met with several of the 10 Washington University students, calling the meeting “emotionally powerful.” Owens said in a statement that he and Murphy left the meeting with a better understanding of “what it is like to be a young African-American who is confronted by the police.” Owens and Murphy are White.
The incident involved 10 incoming freshmen on campus for a five-week summer program to help them prepare for university life at the prestigious school that sits that sits at the boundary of St. Louis and Clayton.
After a late-night dinner at a Clayton IHOP restaurant the students were walking to a light rail station around 12:30 a.m. July 8 when they were approached by two officers.
The restaurant manager had told police that a group of young Black men left without paying a $62 tab. The students had, in fact, eaten at the restaurant and some were carrying to-go bags. But they told police they paid their bills — some showed receipts.
Murphy said the students agreed to walk back and talk with the restaurant manager. The university said six squad cars followed the students, though Murphy believed the number was four.
Back at the restaurant, the manager told police the students were not those who left without paying.
Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton met with Clayton leaders on July 12 and again on Tuesday to express their concern and anger, said Jill Friedman, vice chancellor for public affairs.
“I have great admiration for our students’ maturity, fortitude and candor,” Wrighton said. “They are truly remarkable. I had hoped that this kind of dialogue with the city would open city leaders’ eyes, open their hearts and open their minds, and it did.”
Owens said that in hindsight, police mishandled the incident and lacked sensitivity about the students’ “everyday reality because of how racial bias affects their lives.”
The city will expand training programs to help ensure against bias and improve racial sensitivity training, and an outside expert will examine current procedures, Owens said.