Wealthy black family held at gunpoint by rookie state trooper over traffic infraction: ‘My goal was to stay alive’
A wealthy black father was handcuffed and held at gunpoint by state troopers in front of his family outside their suburban Philadelphia home, after he was stopped for a traffic infraction.
Rodney and Angela Gillespie and their daughters had recently returned to the U.S. after six years abroad in London and Johannesburg when a Pennsylvania state trooper turned on his sirens as they headed home in a rented Jeep Cherokee after midnight on July 8, reported The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“My wife was asleep, my daughter was asleep, and I said, ‘Oh boy, here we go,’” Gillespie told the newspaper. “I said, ‘I’m just going to pull in the driveway because obviously it’s dark, the street has no shoulder, I don’t feel safe here.’"
Gillespie, whose 17-year-old daughter was riding in the back seat but whose 22-year-old daughter was not in the vehicle, pulled into the well-lighted circular driveway of their home in the upscale Chadds Ford neighborhood.
"How old are you?" the rookie trooper shouted with his service weapon drawn, according to the Gillespies. "Why did you stop here? Don’t give me that sh*t! Get out of the car! Why are you driving a rental car? Do you have drugs? Guns? Is that your girlfriend in the car?"
Trooper Christoper Johnson pulled Gillespie, a senior executive for the multinational pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, out of the SUV, handcuffed him and reached into his pocket without permission to grab his wallet.
Two more state troopers, one black and one white, soon arrived and questioned Angela Gillespie.
“It was terrifying,” she said. “I think the biggest thing for me was sitting there watching and listening to how they treated my husband. The yelling was at a level that was terrifying. My goal was to stay alive.”
The 23-year-old Johnson, who had been on patrol for only about two months, did not initially tell Gillespie he had been stopped for crossing the double yellow line but instead told him the area had recently seen a number of burglaries.
“I think I was completely targeted,” Gillespie said. “This is a very nice, affluent neighborhood, a black guy driving. I guess he thought I was driving by myself and he wanted to follow and see."
The troopers freed Gillespie from the handcuffs after about 10 minutes, after his wife was allowed to use her phone to search Google for his name and show officers his online professional biography.
Johnson issued the husband and father a a $142.50 ticket for a yellow-line infraction, which Gillespie paid the following week, and a $102 ticket for not stopping immediately, which was dismissed.
“One thing my daughter said to me that really killed me was, ‘Dad, I can’t lose you, I can’t lose you,’" Johnson said. "My daughter should not have to say something like that to me. What she witnessed that night is etched in her mind.”
The couple, who are each 52, filed a complaint last week and are considering a lawsuit.
A spokesman for the state troopers union declined to comment until the investigation was complete, but Angela Gillespie was shocked to be racially profiled upon returning from South Africa and the United Kingdom.
“To be welcomed back this way just didn’t make sense,” she said. “This is not the America we left in 2013. We’ve come back to an elevated rage.”