When a black real estate agent peeked out the window of a house he was pointing to and saw a policeman walking around the property with his handgun in his hand, he was afraid there was a fugitive in the courtyard.
“It’s a nice house, but there’s a criminal outside,” said Eric Brown to himself as he saw the officer.
At the time, he was giving Roy Thorne and the man’s 15-year-old son Sammy a tour of a house in Wyoming, Michigan.
“He’s not going to buy this house now,” Brown worried.
However, he said he became less concerned with making a sale and more concerned with staying safe when he noticed a second officer “behind a tree waving his hand”.
Before the afternoon was over, the police would order the trio out of the house and put them in handcuffs.
A typical spectacle
Brown, 46, of Grand Rapids Real Estate, arrived at the two-story brick-roofed house and two garages at 2 p.m. on Sunday and did what he always does. He tested the doorbell, used an app on his phone to open a safe containing the key, and sneaked in before his client arrived to open the closets and doors to the bedroom.
Thorne, 45, whom Brown has known since their teens, and Sammy arrived 10 minutes later.
The three waved to neighbors outside to do Sunday things – the guy mowing the lawn, the family next door who was having an outdoor meeting.
They didn’t notice when the officers arrived.
“Get out of the line of sight”
Brown knew the doors to the house were open. He was worried that a suspect was on the run and trying to come and hide in the house.
“If there’s a place to run, it’s going to be in this house,” he recalls thinking.
âThey are about to bring a criminal into this house. We’re going to be hostages here, and Sammy is in the basement.
Sammy suddenly rushed upstairs to report that there were more police outside the house.
Thorne, who is also black and is an Army veteran, told his son to “get out of the line of sight” and opened a window to address the officers, Brown said.
âThey were so focused on their organization that they didn’t hear him scream,â Brown told NBC News on Friday. “When the officer heard it, the officer pointed his gun at the house.”
“That’s when I knew they were there for us,” he added.
‘It does something to you’
Brown said he and his clients were ordered to come down and out through the front of the house one at a time with their hands in the air.
âWe realized, OK, this has been going on for a while,â he said.
Three or four police vehicles were parked with their wheels on the sidewalk. And the officers, using their open SUV doors as shields and with guns, waited for the trio to exit the house.
As Brown, Thorne, and Sammy exited the house, they were ordered to turn around and walk backwards towards the officers.
âWhen you have multiple guns pointed at you and they tell you to turn around, it does something to you,â Brown said.
“I’m only showing the house”
All three were handcuffed. Brown asked what the disturbance was and got no response. Before he was about to be placed in the cruiser, he urged an officer to go into his pocket, take out his wallet and find his business card, showing he is a real estate agent. âI’m just showing the house,â he said.
The officer stopped and asked how Brown got into the house. Still handcuffed, Brown said he was taken back to the entrance to the house to show how he got the key out of the safe.
Officers, from the Wyoming Police Department, removed the handcuffs from the three and apologized, Brown said. They told him that the house had recently had a squatter. The squatter’s black Mercedes looked like Brown’s black Genesis.
But he couldn’t shake the feeling that in the predominantly white neighborhood, he, his friend, and his friend’s son had been racially profiled.
âIt looks bad. It hurts,â Brown said. “My heart is racing. Sammy looks 10 shades lighter. He’s clearly terrified and traumatized by the situation.” Meanwhile, the officers “just got out of it.”
It numbered up to seven officers, all white. He said they had done “no due diligence” when they got to the house. They didn’t announce themselves or try to ring the doorbell.
“They didn’t come over there to talk. The way they moved around the house, Roy with his military training recognized that posture. It went from showing us a house to we have to get out of here alive,” Brown mentioned. “I trusted we were in danger, a very serious danger.”
The Wyoming Police Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment from NBC News.
In a statement to NBC WOOD Affiliate of Grand Rapids, Captain Timothy Pols said officers were responding to “a 911 call from a neighbor saying a house was broken into.”
âOfficers were aware that a previous burglary had taken place at this same address on July 24 and that a suspect had been arrested and charged with illegal entry during this incident. The caller said the previously arrested suspect had returned. and had entered the house again, âthe statement said.
Brown, Thorne and Sammy were handcuffed “according to department protocol,” Pols said. He did not address the officers surrounding the house with guns or failing to announce himself.
While Brown and Thorne now speak with a lawyer, he said they are focused on getting emotional support for Sammy, Thorne and himself “to heal as fast as possible”.
âI went from being scared for my life to being shocked, it’s not a little angry now,â Brown said.
“I definitely felt guilty for breaking into this house,” he said. “And I had the keys.”