The Virginia Beach Police Department has issued an apology after an officer mistook a Black man for a credit card thief and publicly handcuffed him with his family watching at a crowded mall.
Jamar Mackey was at the Lynnhaven Mall in Virginia Beach on Saturday when an officer approached him at the food court, where he sat enjoying food with his family, and handcuffed him, bystander video posted to Facebook showed. Although he denied involvement in the theft, officers escorted Mackey out of the mall in handcuffs, only to release him after realizing he was the wrong person.
Present were Mackey’s fiancée, 13-year-old son, and their newborn baby, Mackey told WVEC. Mackey and his fiancée did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment.
After video of the altercation went viral, the VBPD and Police Chief Paul Neudigate released a statement on Sunday.
“Certainly, anyone would be upset about being detained for something they didn’t do” Neudigate said. “While the video shows the officer stayed calm and respectful throughout the brief encounter, we must ensure the situation merits the response. We are gathering all the facts to evaluate the incident so we can address the concerns people have raised.
The statement also noted that an investigation is underway to review the arresting officer’s response to the matter.
VBPD did not respond to NBC News' request for comment when reached on Tuesday.
Neudigate also apologized to Mackey during a Monday news conference.
“Right or wrong, we have to be able to apologize when our actions greatly inconvenience a member of the community," Neudigate said, explaining that officers were investigating a report of stolen credit cards at the mall and Mackey matched the suspect’s description.
In the five-minute video, Mackey is seen sitting at a crowded food court with his hands behind his back, and an officer handcuffing him as he and his fiancée, who records the video, try to explain that they don’t drive a black truck, after being asked by the officer.
“What did he do, can you tell us? We just came with our family, we don’t even have a black truck,” Mackey’s fiancée said.
Mackey added, "You got the wrong person."
After Mackey is escorted outside, the officer in the video is heard explaining that Mackey matched the description of a suspect for credit card theft, which Mackey and his fiancée repeatedly denied having any knowledge of.
“We’re with our kids!” Mackey’s fiancée said. “You think my son will forget this?” she said, adding that the situation was “embarrassing” for her and her family.
Eventually, the officer released Mackey and tried explaining himself.
"We got a description of someone using stolen credit cards. That person is a Black male with dreads and is wearing all black and was with a boy wearing red," the officer said before offering an apology.
In the days following the incident, local officials have come out in support of Mackey, condemning the actions of the VBPD and calling the detainment discriminatory.
“I have seen the video of the incident at Lynnhaven Mall, and like many of you, I am upset and frustrated for this man who had to endure the embarrassment and indignity of being handcuffed in front of his wife, children and a crowd of shoppers for something that he did not do,” said Councilman Aaron Rouse in a Facebook post. “How does a law-abiding citizen, a family man, husband, father, and small business owner get handcuffed for something he didn’t do? Why did it happen to him? What is standard operating procedure?”
“Jamar Mackey’s wrongful detainment in front of his children was unacceptable and emblematic of the frequent disproportionate treatment of people of color by law enforcement,” said Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., on Twitter.
Virginia Beach’s NAACP also responded to the incident, saying, “The Virginia Beach NAACP strongly condemns the apparent racial bias on display in the video clip that has widely circulated on social media today. In the midst of a global pandemic, Virginia Beach police officers — without masks or personal protective equipment — mistakenly detained a Black man who was spending quality time with his family.”
The NAACP added that they will not rest “until every Black citizen in Virginia Beach can shop, dine, and travel without being racially profiled by our city’s police officers.”
Since Saturday’s incident, police have arrested another man in relation to the theft. Markee Smith, 28, was charged with four counts of credit card fraud, receiving stolen goods, and two counts of felony probation violation.
On Monday, Mackey addressed the incident on his Facebook page and thanked those who have supported him.
“I just want to publicly thank everyone for the calls texts inboxes and sharing of our video from Saturday at the mall. It was a very traumatic experience for our family that we wouldn’t wish on anyone,” Mackey said in the post, adding that he wishes to return to normalcy so that he and his family can enjoy the holidays.
Neudigate said the ongoing investigation will seek to answer whether the initial approach and stop was justified, and whether the use of handcuffs was justified.