Barber files profiling complaint

Businessman says police mistakenly accused and handcuffed him

Staff WriterAugust 27, 2009 

— Charles Brown took over Dean Smith's favorite barber shop this spring. Within a month, he says, the Chapel Hill police detained him for an hour late one night, mistaking him for a younger black criminal.

"I'm being arrested for nothing, for being a black man walking down the street late at night," he said.

With help from the local NAACP, Brown has filed a complaint against the Police Department. It's the kind of complaint that already had some town residents calling for a civilian review board to scrutinize police action as in Durham, Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem.

"I would caution people not to jump to conclusions based on allegations," Police Chief Brian Curran said. "If the allegations are true as the allegations are written in the complaint, I'd be very concerned."

Brown says he closed the former Tar Heel Barber Shop, now Precise Cutz & Styles at 136 E. Rosemary St., at 10p.m. June 1, and then worked repairing one of the barber chairs. His car wasn't running, so he started walking around 11:30 p.m. toward his home in the Northside neighborhood just across the Carrboro town line.

Five minutes into his walk, he passed two police cruisers parked, as usual, in the lot at the Key Food Mart on West Rosemary. One of them pulled slowly across the street into another parking lot. Officer David Funk got out and ordered Brown to stop.

"Stop for what?" Brown recalls saying. "What did I do?"

"You are under arrest, Mr. Fearrington," Funk said.

"You have warrants," said Funk, pulling Brown's arms behind his back and cuffing his wrists, according to the complaint.

The police chief said officers can handcuff a person, without arresting him, until they can investigate the situation and ensure the public's safety and their own, especially late at night.

"I am not Mr. Fearrington," Brown remembers saying. "My name is Charles Brown."

Hearing no response, Brown asked, "Are you sure you want to do this? My name is not Mr. Fearrington."

Brown says Funk pushed him against the trunk of the patrol car and searched him. Brown says he was surrounded by five police officers who taunted him about his claiming to own a business and complaining of racial profiling. Brown's complaint alleges the officers were trying to provoke an angry reaction in order to justify a Henry Louis "Gates-style" "wrongful arrest." (The arrest of Harvard professor Gates touched off a national controversy in July.)

About half an hour after Brown says he was handcuffed, officers called the Police Identification Center in Hillsborough. His name, date of birth and former Sanford address matched up, according to his complaint. The operator then checked criminal databases for any outstanding warrants. The call ended at 12:30 a.m.

Brown says no one apologized or explained why he'd been detained for an hour. They simply drove off. In addition to Funk, an eight-year CHPD veteran, the complaint names first-year officer Michael Castro and officers Gregory Taylor, Milan Sabanosh and Douglas Williams, who each have two to four years on the force.

A bill that would let Chapel Hill create a police review board passed the N.C. House and was referred to a Senate committee last session. The town needs legislative authority to release officers' personnel records to a citizens panel.

Brown is scheduled to meet with CHPD Patrol Capt. Jeff Clark this week. The NAACP has also requested a written response from Mayor Kevin Foy and a meeting with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Partnership.

jesse.deconto@newsobserver.com or 919-932-8760

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