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‘Can you take that gun off of him? He’s 8 years old’: Video shows controversial traffic stop

A police body camera shows a traffic stop with a child.
San Diego police on Wednesday released body-worn video of a controversial stop that unfolded Tuesday afternoon.
(San Diego Police Department)

The San Diego Police Department on Wednesday released body-worn video of a traffic stop that caused a stir after a photo that was circulated online appeared to show an officer pointing his gun at a boy.

The Police Department said the officer did not point his gun at the child, as indicated in the video.

The boy’s father, however, apparently believed otherwise during the Tuesday afternoon traffic stop in the Hillcrest area. In the video, the boy’s father asks the officer not to point the gun at his 8-year-old son.

The video shows the officer had pointed his gun at the father — who had been pulled over — until he was taken into custody. Then the officer points his gun toward the passenger’s side of the car as the boy gets out. The officer aims his gun away from the boy as he walks toward officers.

In response to the encounter, Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe, chair of the City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee, called on the Police Department to review how children are treated during traffic stops.

According to police, a motorcycle officer saw the car going about 70 mph in a 40-mph zone about 12:50 p.m. The officer turned on his lights and sirens to stop the car, but the driver didn’t pull over. The officer called for backup, thinking the driver was trying to get away, police said.

The car eventually stopped nearby, and police said officers carried out a “high-risk traffic stop” — a situation in which officers think they may face a potentially dangerous situation.

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The body-worn video begins with officers asking the man in the driver’s seat to step out of the car and turn his face away from them.

“My kid is crying, dude, can you take the gun,” the man says.

“All right, back up toward my voice,” an officer tells him.

The man walks backward toward officers before he is taken into custody.

“Is it just your son in there?” an officer asks the man.

An officer then asks the child to get out of the car as the officer with the gun drawn aims at the passenger’s side of the car. An officer asks the boy to put his hands in the air.

“Can you take the gun off him, bro?” the man tells the officer. “Can you take that gun off of him? He’s 8 years old, man.”

In a statement, police spokesman Lt. Shawn Takeuchi said: “The officer never pointed his firearm at the child and maintained his aim at the vehicle.”

As the boy begins to walk toward officers, the officer aims his gun to the left of the car, the video shows.

“Just come over to us, all right,” the officer tells the boy. “You’re good, bud.”

A motorcycle officer walks up to the boy and asks him to sit nearby on a curb. “You don’t have any weapons on you, right?” the officer asks the boy.

As officers search the car, the motorcycle officer kneels down next to the boy and talks to him about the traffic stop.

“Your dad was driving really, really fast. Did it feel like that to you? No? OK,” the officer says. “Did you hear the siren behind you guys for a while? Yeah? Well, so, your dad was supposed to pull over when that siren was going, and he didn’t for whatever reason.

“So we don’t know what’s going on, and that’s why we had to pull out the guns and stuff like that, because we don’t know who he is. We don’t know who you are. We don’t know who’s in the car. So that’s why, bud, OK?

“You, you’re not in trouble, OK?”

Police said the boy’s father was cited on suspicion of reckless driving, a misdemeanor, then released. “The father and son left together after the citation was issued,” the Police Department said in a statement, which was included in the video.

About 35 protesters, most dressed in all black, gathered Wednesday night outside the Police Department’s downtown headquarters, where they called on the officer in the video to be fired, among other things. Police shut down four intersections around the building with steel barriers and posted about 20 officers on each corner wearing helmets and holding batons.

The demonstration, which lasted from about 7 p.m. to about 9:45 p.m., ended without any physical confrontations between police and protesters.

The police statement said the body-worn camera footage was released “to clarify the facts of this incident and to promote public trust.” The release of the video came hours after a photo circulated on social media caused uproar. The picture showed the officer with his gun drawn and the child with his hands in the air.

San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Alex Riggins contributed to this report.

Updates

12:18 p.m. March 11, 2021: This story was updated with details about the Wednesday night protest.

12:18 p.m. March 11, 2021: This story was updated with comments from Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe.


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