Pennsylvania State Police said its officers did not racially profile a black man who was followed by officers in his car as he drove his sleeping wife and daughter to their home in a wealthy Philadelphia suburb.
On July 8, two white state police officers had been following Rodney Gillespie’s car for about a mile when he briefly crossed the road’s center lines. Gillespie, a pharmaceutical executive, said officers later told him they started trailing him after he passed them as there had been break-ins in the area recently.
Officers put on their sirens after the minor traffic violation, just as Gillespie turned into the desolate laneway leading to his home in Chadds Ford. He said he didn’t want to pull over in the dark street with no streetlights or passersby.
“I knew my house was lit with lights,” Gillespie told BuzzFeed News. “What other place do you think is safer than your house?”
The video, released by state police Friday, shows that he drove up the laneway for one minute with the sirens behind him before he pulled into his driveway.
Once parked, one state police officer screamed at him to get out of the car, while the other asked why he hadn’t pulled over earlier.
“This is a small street, I didn’t want to get killed,” Gillespie can be heard saying in the video.
“How old are you?” yelled Trooper Christopher S. Johnson, 23, a rookie. Gillespie replied that he was 52. The officer said their hearts were racing because Gillespie hadn’t pulled his car over.
“You all kill black people, I didn’t want to get killed,” replied Gillespie, referring to the multiple incidents of unarmed black people, particularly men, getting shot and killed. Philando Castile was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop.
Johnson told him to “knock off the nonsense,” and ordered him out of the car.
“You want to know how to get hurt? Not stopping for police. You’re running,” said the officer, who graduated from police academy just two months earlier.
“I wasn’t running from you guys, I was just scared,” Gillespie replied.
He also explained that he was just driving his family home from visiting his sister-in-law.
“Listen, one of my best friends, that’s a trooper that works with me, is black. I don’t want to hear that black nonsense,” Johnson said.
“Bro, you see what is happening on the news, right?” Gillespie responded.
Gillespie was then put in handcuffs for several minutes and his wife was questioned. He was then given a ticket for the traffic violation.
After the incident, Gillespie and his lawyer, Sam Stretton, filed a complaint against the Pennsylvania State Police. Stretton called the department Thursday to get an update on the investigation and was told no decision had been made.
The first Stretton and Gillespie knew about the investigation’s findings was when journalists called them Friday asking for comment because a statement and the dashcam video had been released, along with the finding that the complaint had not been upheld.
“The complaint of bias-based profiling was not sustained,” the statement from state police said.
However, the investigation did find that two police regulations were broken. Police acknowledged that officers broke “rules of conduct for employees” by their aggressive behavior.
“While recognizing officer safety concerns existed, adjudicators nonetheless determined the troopers could have more effectively deescalated the situation upon making initial contact with Mr. Gillespie,” the statement said.
Gillespie said he had tried to remain as calm as possible at the time, despite the officers telling him to stop the “black nonsense.”
“I thought it was totally inappropriate but I also my mindset was let's just cooperate, be safe, get through this thing and get my family in the house,” he said. “I was more concerned about my wife and my daughter than myself.”
Rewatching the video Friday brought back “bad memories, and some pain,” he added.
“As an African American, as a man, trying to take care of his family, I felt like there was a little bit of ... [police officers] trying to egg me on, emasculating me, right in front of my family,” Gillespie said.
The internal investigation also noted that officers are supposed to wear microphones that record while on patrol, however, “this policy was not consistently followed by all members involved.”
That meant that no audio could be heard of officers in the car leading up to the confrontation with Gillespie and at various times throughout the stop, as not all the officers have microphones switched on.
Gillespie said he recalls two things officers said that did not appear on the video, possibly because of the lack of recording. The first was that police said they followed him when he passed their car because of recent break-ins. The second was that officers asked him who his “girlfriends” were, referring to his wife Angela and his 17-year-old daughter Jaida, who was sleeping in the back seat (his elder daughter Jasmyn, 22, was not in the car).
Gillespie and his family had moved back to the United States after six years living abroad just one week before the incident.
“It was unfortunately confirming the things that I had seen and read from outside the US, but couldn’t really appreciate, because I’ve been gone for six years,” said Gillespie, now the global head of renal and anemia for pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
He said he was “really disappointed” with the results of the internal police investigation finding that racism did not factor into the officers’ behavior.
“It feels like a cover up, or maybe I should call it spin,” Gillespie told BuzzFeed News. “I thought they would least acknowledge it, get it right, start to deal with the issue.”
Last month, the Philadelphia Inquirer revealed that none of the 32 complaints of racial bias leveled at Pennsylvania state police officers since 2016 had been sustained, and that every officer was cleared of wrongdoing.
“Obviously, the state police can’t police themselves,” Stretton, Gillespie’s lawyer, told BuzzFeed News, pointing out that 92% of Pennsylvania state police officers are white. “The conduct was clearly racial profiling.”
Meanwhile, Gillespie, who plans to file a lawsuit in the matter, said he fears state police will continue to treat other black people in the same manner.
“If you never think there’s a problem, you’ll never address an issue,” he said.