In a surprising turn of events, the Philadelphia police commissioner is no longer dismissing the concerns raised by the arrest of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson at Starbucks.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross originally defended the actions of police officers in a Facebook Live statement. He said the men were told they were trespassing and were “asked to leave politely,” three times. He said the men answered that “we don’t care,” which Ross called the “same type of attitude” Starbucks staff had described. Ross said police on the scene, “in an effort to quell the situation, called for a supervisor” to keep things from getting “out of hand.” He praised that decision.
Ross said the men were then “taken out essentially without incident” and with “no harm done to them.” He said police processed the pair for arrest, but later “discovered Starbucks was no longer interested in prosecuting,” and let them go. In short, “these officers had legal standing to make this arrest. They were called to this scene because these people were trespassing. Officers “followed policy” and acted “professional, and got the opposite back.”
But now, Roberts is walking back his controversial comments and apologizing to the young men.
Ross called it an “unfortunate incident, an incident that I fully acknowledge I played a significant role in making worse,” he shared in the public statement.
“For starters, I should have said the officers acted within the scope of law and not they didn’t do anything wrong. Words are very important. While it is no excuse, my lack of awareness of the Starbucks business model played a role in my messaging.”
Ross said he knew nothing about Starbucks policies but learned more after multiple conversations with heads of the company. When officers were called to the scene, Ross said: “I think the one thing we tacitly thought what was understood was that charges would be pressed.”
“My sincere apology to those men and the two officers who I failed in a variety of ways on this incident,” Ross said.
“It was me that was flawed in this situation. I exacerbated the situation with my messaging.”
He said the arresting officer has been “mortified” since the situation and the widespread backlash. Ross defended the officer saying he has a good track record.
“That officer was just trying to do his job. He was put in an unfortunate circumstance.”
In an interview on Good Morning America today, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson told Robin Roberts they were at Starbucks for a real estate meeting that they had been working on for months. She asked the two best friends to describe what happened when they arrived at Starbucks and asked to use the bathroom.
Rashon Nelson: “Immediately as soon as I walked in. She stated that it was for paying customers only and I just left it at that…”
After taking a seat to wait for their colleague to arrive for their meeting the manager approached them.
Donte Robinson: “We’re at the table. We sit down we’re just talking amongst each other, she comes from around the register, walks up to us, asks if she could help us with anything… could we start with some drinks, water. We had bottles of water with us so we’re fine. We’re waiting for a meeting we’ll be out really quick, type thing. And that was it.”
Robin Roberts noted that they arrived at 4:35 for a 4:45 business meeting, and a 911 call was placed at 4:37, two minutes after they arrived.
They went on to describe what happened when the police arrived.
Donte Robinson: “It can’t be for us. Initially, as soon as they approached us, they said we have to leave. There was no question of, ‘was there a problem here with you guys and a manager, you know, what happened?’ At the time, we’re not read any rights. Nothing. Just double locked. Handcuffed behind our backs and escorted out and put into a squad car.”
Roberts asked them what they were thinking at the time as they were being arrested.
Donte Robinson: “I was just trying to process the situation to myself at the time because I’m thinking about my family. My community. So in that moment, I’m trying to process what’s going on because it didn’t really hit me what was going on, that it was real until I’m being double locked with my hands behind my back.”
Nelson told the Associated Press that he wondered if he’d make it home alive. “Anytime I’m encountered by cops, I can honestly say it’s a thought that runs through my mind,” Nelson said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”