A Pennsylvania state trooper found a Black couple driving in a rental car in an affluent neighborhood to be reason enough to follow them to their own driveway and place a husband and father in handcuffs last month. Now the couple has retained an attorney to help them navigate what appeared to be a classic case of racial profiling.
Rodney and Angela Gillespie and their 17-year-old daughter were on their way home just after midnight on July 8 after spending six years out of the country for Rodney’s job as a senior executive of a multinational pharmaceutical company. They were driving a rented a black Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo through the Pennsylvania township of Chadds Ford, which is about 25 miles southwest of Philadelphia. As they arrived home, flashing red and blues lights and police siren suddenly appeared.
“My wife was asleep, my daughter was asleep and I said, ‘Oh boy, here we go,” Rodney remembered. “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.'”
Rodney and Angela told the Philadelphia Inquirer after parking their car, they were not sure if they were going to live or die. They also recalled how the state trooper, who has been identified as Christopher S. Johnson, held his hand on his gun as he yelled out things like “how old are you?” “Why did you stop here?” “Don’t give me that shit! Get out of the car!” “Why are you driving a rental car?” “Do you have drugs? Guns?” “Is that your girlfriend in the car?”
Johnson, who was a 23-year-old rookie and had only graduated from the police academy just two months prior to the incident, pulled Rodney out of the car and placed him in handcuffs. He also reached into Rodney’s pocket to take out his wallet. One Black and one white trooper also arrived on the scene to assist.
“It was terrifying,” Angela said remembering how she was too afraid to pull out her phone to record the encounter. “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.”
After Angela showed the officers her husband’s professional business profile, Rodney was released from the handcuffs but was issued tickets for a yellow-line infraction and for not stopping immediately. Though the latter ticket was dismissed, he paid for the infraction but denied committing it. Johnson reportedly told the couple that he first spotted them two miles away from their home and Rodney wondered why a state trooper would follow him on a residential street for such a small infraction.
“This is an affluent neighborhood,” he said. “A Black guy driving. I guess he thought I was driving by myself and he wanted to follow and see.”
The Gillespie’s attorney, Samuel C. Stretton, who is white, said he watched the dashcam video of the incident and said it was clear there was racial profiling. He also said that he believed Johnson wrote the violations to cover his own misconduct. Nonetheless, a family said they were terrorized at their own home, which was attained through the so-called “American Dream.”
“To be welcomed back this way just didn’t make sense,” Angela said. “This is not the America we left in 2013. We’ve come back to an elevated rage.”
The Gillespie’s have filed a complaint with the State Police on July 24 and an internal investigation is pending.