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Philadelphia police chief says officers did nothing wrong in Starbucks arrest of two black men

Philadelphia police chief says officers did nothing wrong in Starbucks arrest of two black men
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, in file photograph with Mayor Jim Kenney, defended police officers who arrested two black men at a Starbucks, saying police were responding to a complaint from the business. (Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

Philadelphia's police commissioner on Saturday defended officers who arrested two black men at a Starbucks, prompting accusations of racism on social media, concern from the mayor and an apology from the company.

Videos posted online show officers handcuffing the men in the downtown establishment on Thursday. A white man in the video is heard saying he was meeting with the men and calls the arrest "ridiculous."

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Commissioner Richard Ross said Starbucks employees called 911 to say the men were trespassing. He said officers were told that the men had come in and asked to use the restroom but were denied because they hadn't bought anything, as he said is company policy. He said they then refused to leave.

Ross, who is black, said police asked the men to leave three times but they refused. They were then arrested, but later released after the company elected not to prosecute. He said the officers "did absolutely nothing wrong" and were professional in their conduct toward the two men but "got the opposite back." He did not mention the man who said he was meeting with the other two men.

"As an African American male, I am very aware of implicit bias; we are committed to fair and unbiased policing," Ross said. But, he added, "If a business calls and they say that 'someone is here that I no longer wish to be in my business,' [officers] now have a legal obligation to carry out their duties, and they did just that."

Starbucks posted an apology on Twitter on Saturday, saying the company was "disappointed this led to an arrest" and was reviewing its policies.

"We take these matters seriously and clearly have more work to do when it comes to how we handle incidents in our store," the company said in a statement Saturday afternoon.

Later Saturday, Starbucks Chief Executive Kevin Johnson said that the company had launched an investigation into what he called "a disheartening situation."

"Regretfully, our practices and training led to a bad outcome — the basis for the call to the Philadelphia Police Department was wrong," Johnson said in a statement. "Our store manager never intended for these men to be arrested and this should never have escalated as it did."

He said that Starbucks planned to further train employees "to better know when police assistance is warranted" and would hold a company-wide meeting in the coming week to discuss next steps. Johnson also said that he hoped to meet with the two men and apologize personally.

Ross said he doesn't patronize Starbucks but recalled an incident from a few years ago in which a uniformed sergeant was denied access to a Starbucks bathroom, "so they are at least consistent in their policy."

Mayor Jim Kenney said he asked the city Commission on Human Relations to examine the company's policies and procedures, "including the extent of, or need for, implicit bias training for its employees."

"I am heartbroken to see Philadelphia in the headlines for an incident that — at least based on what we know at this point — appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018," Kenney said in a statement.

Kenney said a review promised by police of policies in similar situations "is fully warranted given the unfortunate outcome of this event, particularly at a time when our criminal justice reform efforts are focused on avoiding needless incarcerations."

Attorney Lauren Wimmer told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the men, whom she did not identify, are commercial real estate professionals and were meeting with the another man to discuss business. She identified herself as a friend of the man they were meeting with.

A spokesman for the district attorney's office said the two black men were released "because of lack of evidence" that a crime had been committed, but declined further comment, citing a police investigation.

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UPDATES:

8:25 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Starbucks Chief Executive Kevin Johnson.

This article was originally published at 6:35 p.m.

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