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City of Clayton apologizes to African-American Wash. Univ. students

CLAYTON, Mo. – Administrators with the City of Clayton apologized to 10 Washington University students Thursday after those students were falsely accused of leaving a local IHOP without paying for their meal. The city pledged it would “do better” in regard to racial sensitivity and better serving the public.

Clayton City Manager Craig Owens and Police Chief Kevin Murphy met with several of the students on Thursday. Mayor Harold Sanger, along with Owens and Murphy, met with Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton earlier in the week to discuss the matter.

In a statement, Owens acknowledged Clayton police “mishandled the interaction” with the students—all of whom are African-American—and that the city must “learn and do better.”

The students were walking south along Brentwood Boulevard to the Galleria MetroLink station around 12:30 a.m. on July 7—after dining at the IHOP following a trip to Fair St. Louis—when they were stopped by two Clayton police officers. The students said the officers told them they were suspects in a crime that just occurred at the IHOP.

Management at the IHOP called police minutes earlier about a “dine and dash” incident, saying four black men left without paying a $62 bill.

Police made all of the students walk back to the restaurant with squad cars following them, even though some of the students had receipts showing they paid for their food. Once they walked back to the restaurant, an IHOP manager informed police they were not the individuals responsible.

At the time, the students said police dismissed them without an apology.

Going forward, Owens said Chief Murphy will complete his internal investigation into the incident and the police department will invite a third party to review their work and examine ways to improve bias training for all officers on the force. The results of that review will be made available to the public.

The Clayton Police Department will introduce body cameras to its officers later this year, Owens said. City leaders have also asked Washington University if they can spend time meeting and listening to members of the campus community, to further a dialogue about race relations and the relationship between the police and citizens.

You can read Clayton City Manager Craig Owens' statement  below in its entirety:

On behalf of the City of Clayton, I share this statement.

Today, Chief Murphy and I met with several of the Washington University students who were involved in the July 7 incident with the Clayton Police. Earlier this week, along with Mayor Sanger, we also met with Chancellor Wrighton and his staff. I appreciate his leadership in facilitating these conversations. The dialogue today, especially, has been transforming.

The interaction with the students today was emotionally powerful. We left with a much better understanding of how the students were feeling the night of July 7 and what it is like to be a young African-American who is confronted by the police. We, and Mayor Sanger, hope we are better people and intend to be better leaders because of the experience.

In hindsight, it is clear to us that we mishandled the interaction with these 10 Washington University students and lacked sensitivity about their everyday reality because of how racial bias affects their lives. For that, on behalf of the City of Clayton, we sincerely apologize.

Our police department has a duty to protect the businesses and citizens of Clayton, including the Washington University students who reside here. We intend to honor that duty. We understand, however, that what is at question is how we go about doing that. On July 7, with these 10 students, we did not carry out our duty in a way that demonstrates we act without bias.

This is an opportunity for the city to learn and do better. To do so, in response to the conversations we have had with university students and leaders and what we have heard from other members of the university community, we will immediately take the steps outlined below.

We will close by just sharing how extremely impressed we are by these Washington University students. We are grateful that they have been willing to share their experience and their perspective. They came to Washington University to change the world and they have already done so. My promise to them is that we will work very hard to restore the confidence of these newest Clayton residents and ensure that they are safe and welcome in Clayton.

The Path Forward
• First, Chief of Police Murphy will complete his investigation underway into the details of the events from the time the department received the call from the restaurant to the time the students made their way back to campus. We have asked for that investigation to be completed as quickly, and as thoroughly, as possible. We will also invite a third party in to examine our policies and procedures and expand our training programs in implicit bias for all our officers. We will share what we learn publicly and use the results to identify areas where we can be more sensitive and aware.
• Our police department will be conducting more regular and more intensive training focused on racial sensitivity and how to enhance it in carrying out our duty to serve. When possible, we will coordinate those exercises with the Washington University Police Department, so we can benefit from the extensive work they have done in this area and they also can benefit from the additional training.
• We anticipate the introduction of body cameras later this year, a program for which we have received grant funding. This will provide accountability and a tool for coaching positive interaction techniques.
• Finally, we have suggested to Washington University that we spend even more time listening to members of the Washington University community. We would like for the city and our police department to have an ongoing dialogue about relations between our police and the community we serve, and the reality and impact of bias and discrimination in our everyday lives. If surrounding jurisdictions would like to join us, all the better.

Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton issued his own statement regarding the apology:

On July 7, 10 of our incoming first-year students, all of them African-American, were stopped by the Clayton, Mo., police. Because of a poorly executed series of next events, our students were left feeling scared, humiliated, intimidated and targeted because of their race. Since then, I and my administration have been focused on two priorities: strongly expressing to the City of Clayton our anger over what had occurred, and intervening on behalf of our students and supporting them.

On Tuesday, I met personally with Mayor Sanger, City Manager Owens and Police Chief Murphy to reiterate my feelings directly. I made clear that I expected our students would receive an apology that demonstrated Clayton understands the impact this had on our students. I also stated that the city must take steps to ensure that nothing like this happens again, to anyone.

Today, City Manager Owens and Chief Murphy heard directly from some of our students who were involved. I have great admiration for our students’ maturity, fortitude and candor. 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.

I do not know, in my lifetime, if I will see a day when young African-Americans aren’t counseled by their parents to be cautious of the police out of fear that something could go wrong. However, I am hopeful that by speaking up and speaking out and committing ourselves to change — on our campuses, in Clayton and in the surrounding St. Louis region — we can make progress toward that day. The university will be an active partner with the City of Clayton to implement the city’s post-incident action plan and build a better future in our community.

At Washington University, we are working very hard to confront racial bias and to become the inclusive community we aspire to be. Situations like this embolden us to redouble the effort.