Deputy constable fired after black shoppers say he profiled them at Indianapolis mall

An Indiana deputy constable was fired after video footage shows him confronting two black shoppers, who say that he profiled them, at a mall near Indianapolis.

Posted: Nov 21, 2019 1:20 AM
Updated: Nov 21, 2019 1:21 AM

An off-duty Indiana deputy constable has been fired, police say, after he was shown on video hassling two African American shoppers for their identification while repeatedly refusing to identify himself or provide details on why he was stopping them.

Seventeen minutes of the November 12 interaction outside the Nordstrom Rack in Indianapolis' Rivers Edge shopping center was filmed by Aaron Blackwell, the passenger in the car, and posted to YouTube. It is not clear what happened before Blackwell began taping.

At one point, the driver, Durell Cunningham, asks the deputy, who is working security for the Nordstrom Rack store, "What do you need my ID for, sir?"

"Because you want to run your mouth to me," he replies.

"You were looking at my license plate. For what?" Cunningham says, as the passenger tells the deputy he has no rights to stop them.

Apparently agitated by the pushback, the deputy, who is wearing a badge and shoulder-mounted radio, leans toward the window and, voice raised, says, "I got my rights to do anything I want to do. I'm a police officer."

Nordstrom no longer using the deputy

Lawrence Township Constable Terry Burns declined to identify the now-former deputy constable but told CNN on Wednesday the deputy previously worked for his department, just outside Indianapolis. He was fired November 13, the day Burns says he learned of the incident. The deputy had served as a court officer and was working off-duty at the department store, Burns said.

Asked his thoughts on the YouTube video, Burns said, "I think my actions speak to what my feelings were." The constable said he would reach out to the men.

Nordstrom said in a statement the guard "acted without our knowledge or direction." The department store chain said it had instructed the third-party agency that provides its security guards that the deputy may no longer work at any Nordstrom location, the statement said.

"We take matters like this seriously and don't tolerate discrimination of any kind. As soon as we became aware of the incident, we apologized to the customer," the statement said.

Blackwell, 42, said he hadn't heard from Burns or Nordstrom as of Wednesday night. The incident "just confirms what I've seen happen in the city" where he was born and raised, he said.

"We still have the same practices as far as law enforcement in the city -- where we are profiled racially, where we are looked at closer and we are more likely to have a run-in whether we did something or not," he told CNN in a phone interview. "No law enforcement should abuse their authority like this."

Blackwell took another video that, he says, shows the deputy watching them inside the store. CNN has not been able to view the video, and Blackwell said he wanted to consult his attorney before releasing it publicly.

'Because I told you to'

As the YouTube video begins, the shoppers, who are cousins, are in their car and appear annoyed by a prior interaction with the off-duty deputy constable.

The men scope the deputy's car, which is facing them, from across the parking lot. As they slowly approach him, the deputy exits his white, unmarked car and demands the driver's identification.

"For what?" Cunningham asks.

"Because I told you to," the deputy constable says.

"You have to have a reason, sir. You didn't pull me over."

"I tell you what: You either get your a** out or I'll head for backup," the deputy constable says, reaching for the radio on his shoulder.

Cunningham and Blackwell ask him to contact his supervisor, as he continues pressing for Cunningham's identification.

After the deputy declares he can do what he wants because he's law enforcement, he threatens to tow the car. The men ask him for his badge number, and he calls for backup as they request a supervisor again.

"I tell you: We're not getting a supervisor," the deputy tells the men.

Interaction grows tenser

Cunningham, 39, again asks what he's done: "I don't mind showing you my driver's license, but what is the reason that you're asking?"

"Because you're acting suspicious."

Asked how he was acting suspiciously, the deputy continues to ask for a driver's license.

"What are you investigating? You done seen me in there shopping. I paid. I paid. I paid for everything that I bought," Cunningham says.

The deputy tells Cunningham that if he has no warrants, he will let them go, but he's done arguing, he says, and threatens to "take both of you out and tow the car."

Blackwell tells him, "You have to suspect him of a crime to ask him for his identity."

"You don't know the law," the deputy barks.

"Yeah, I do know the law."

"No, you don't know the law. Get your driver's license out and make this easy."

After more requests for a supervisor and the deputy's name as well as more claims of suspicious behavior, the deputy says he will let the men go once he sees identification.

"Oh, it's not going to be let go," Blackwell says.

Seemingly aggravated, the deputy leans toward the window and says, "Don't threaten me. Are you threatening me? Are you going to threaten me? Are you crazy? Are you going to threaten a police officer?"

The specter of 'guns'

As they continue to argue, the deputy offers what he felt was suspicious: "Coming back around to look at me and do whatever you're going to do. I don't know if you got guns or what."

"We're going to wait for backup, sir. We want an authority over you," Cunningham says.

"You don't have no authority over me!" he yells. "Why don't you shut up? I'm not talking to you."

An officer with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department arrives and the deputy tells the officer the men exited Nordstrom Rack with merchandise and "then they run their mouth to me." The officer asks if they stole anything. The deputy says they did not.

The deputy repeats the suspicious behavior line. As he and the vehicle's occupants argue over what happened -- and Blackwell reminds the deputy the interaction was filmed -- the Indianapolis officer tells the shoppers to "hang tight" and walks to the back of the car with the deputy.

Cunningham and Blackwell discuss sending the video to news stations and posting it to YouTube as the officers talk. The Indianapolis officer returns to the passenger window, and Blackwell says he doesn't want to accuse the deputy of racial profiling, "but it is what it is."

Blackwell asks why he and Cunningham were deemed suspicious. The city officer replies that he doesn't know.

"As far as I'm concerned, there was no traffic infraction so there's no reason to stop the vehicle," the officer says.

The men are allowed to leave

The three discuss how to file a report against the deputy before Blackwell thanks the city officer for his civility.

"I don't think either of us have any reasonable suspicion to believe there's a crime taking place," the officer tells them, "so there's no reason for a traffic stop at this point, so there's no legal requirement for you to identify yourself to an officer at that point."

As they pass the deputy, back in his vehicle, Cunningham and Blackwell call him names -- "dummy," "f***ing idiot" -- under their breaths, and the deputy says through his open window, "Keep it up. Keep it up."

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department confirmed one of its officers responded to the incident, but "there was not a report completed nor requested at the time," spokeswoman Genae Cook told CNN.

Blackwell hopes the video raises awareness about the issues African Americans can face with law enforcement, he said.

"Nothing I say can change the video," he said, "I don't know if that guy was having a bad day, but he stepped over the line and he violated us. ... But what's important to me and my cousin is that it's out there and people are aware of it."

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