(PHILADELPHIA) — Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross has apologized to two black men who were arrested at a local Starbucks last week for how he handled the press surrounding the incident.
Ross said the he “failed miserably” at how he addressed the incident last week when he said the arresting officers “did absolutely nothing wrong.”
“I should have said the officers acted within the scope of the law and not that they didn’t do anything wrong,” Ross said during a press conference Thursday. “Words are very important.”
On April 12, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested at a downtown Philadelphia Starbucks and accused of trespassing and disturbance after a manager called 911, telling dispatchers that two men had refused to make a purchase or leave.
The longtime friends, both 23, had just sat down at a table for a business meeting, they told ABC News on Thursday.
Cellphone video of two Philadelphia police officers handcuffing the men and escorting them out of the store caused outrage on social media after it was viewed more than 10 million times.
In a video testimonial released Saturday, Ross also accused Nelson and Robinson of being disrespectful to the officers and said they were both given several chances to leave, but refused.
Ross admitted today that he “played a significant role” in making the situation worse in his initial reaction to the “unfortunate incident.”
Before the arrest, Ross was not aware of the Starbucks business model, in which people “spend long hours in Starbucks and aren’t necessarily expected to make a purchase,” he said, adding that it is reasonable to believe the arresting officers didn’t know that either.
While Ross said the issue of race is not lost on him, he also defended the actions of his officers, saying that the fact that they were at the scene for well over 10 minutes suggests that they were trying to resolve the situation.
At the time, the department did not have a policy for dealing with similar situations, Ross said. A guideline has since been created and will be released soon, the police commissioner said.
After they were put in a squad car, Nelson and Robinson were taken to the police station and later freed.
Robinson told ABC News that police never read them their Miranda rights and that they were held in custody for eight hours.
“There was no reasoning,” he said. “They had nothing. They just kept using ‘defiant trespassing’ as their excuse for putting us behind bars.”
The store manager who called police is no longer working there, a Starbucks spokeswoman confirmed to ABC News.
Starbucks will close 8,000 company-owned stores on May 29 to train is staff on how to avoid “racial bias,” Starbucks said in a statement.
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