Complaint filed after police target wrong man
The first thing Bronce Thomas heard as he sat in his driveway texting were the flash-bang devices exploding at the side of his black Chevy Malibu. The next thing he heard were police officers shouting as they trained their guns on him while he sat in the driver’s seat.
In shock, he dropped his cellphone as he attempted to follow multiple commands, instinctively trying to protect himself and his 4-year-old son sitting in his car seat in the back.
“We know you’re a killer,” officers shouted at him as they closed in on him about 6 p.m. Feb. 15. “We know you’re out here killing people,” Thomas said he heard them shout.
“They threatened to tase me. I think I heard one say they’d shoot me. I heard a whole bunch of stuff,” he said. “It was like something out of 1960.”
Thomas, 38, filed a formal complaint Feb. 18 with the Fort Wayne Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division and sought medical treatment at Park Center for himself and his son for psychological trauma.
The Fort Wayne Police Department responded with a short statement Friday saying Thomas was mistaken for someone else.
“Officers with the Fort Wayne Police Department assisted another agency with their ongoing investigation,” said a statement from Michael Joyner, city police public information officer. “As it turns out, the investigation that was being carried out by the agency had misidentified this gentleman as being their target.”
The FWPD officers involved were from the Gang and Violent Crimes Unit, according to a heavily redacted incident report sent to The Journal Gazette. The other agency was not identified in the report.
Police did not apologize and joked about the incident afterwards, according to Thomas.
Thomas has a problem with that. Before the officers pulled into his driveway on Brentwood Drive where he had backed in his car so it faced the street, Thomas believes they could have plainly seen him as he sat texting.
The fact that he was sitting there peacefully 30 to 40 minutes, texting, not acting suspiciously, should have been enough of a clue that he wasn’t the criminal police were looking for, he said.
Thomas has not been inside a courtroom since he was convicted of marijuana dealing in 2010, serving several months in the Allen County Jail and on probation, according to court documents.
“You didn’t see me pulling in,” Thomas said. “You didn’t see me jumping out the car. You didn’t see me trying to duck down in the car. You didn’t see the car start up. I was just sitting in there texting.”
Before law enforcement abruptly approached, Thomas said he noticed unmarked SUV police cars drive past and around the corner at least three times.
“I was in my driveway. They didn’t follow me from nowhere. They didn’t even see me walk out of the house,” Thomas said.
During the encounter, Thomas thought he was going to be killed as he carefully opened his car door with his hands up. He kept telling the officers that his son was in the car.
“They actually cuffed me, made me get on the ground. They had ARs pointed at me and my son, and my son is 4 years old.
“My neighbor witnessed it, and it was a whole bunch of people in the street because of the bomb (police) threw, all the way down the street, it sounded like a bomb,” Thomas said.
Amie Francies, a few doors down, said the noise from the flash-bang devices was so loud, it scared her 5-year-old.
“I was shocked the police were down there to begin with,” she said, “but especially with all those guns.”
When the officers decided Thomas was not the man they had “chased into the neighborhood” and let him go, they brought his son to him. The preschooler had been crying.
Thomas says officers tried to make light of the situation and did not apologize as some of the squad picked up most of the flash-bang evidence, but they left behind a small device that resembled a spent grenade.
Distraught, Thomas called police after the officers left and asked if an officer could come out so he could file a complaint. He was told police would not be able to do that, and he went to the police station himself Monday.
A laid-off factory worker, Thomas is now watching his son full time while his partner works. Both went to Park Center on Wednesday. Thomas accepted medication for anxiety and was diagnosed with acquired stress disorder, a precursor to post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.
Thomas refused any medicine for his son, who he says has nightmares and will start talking about the incident “out of nowhere.”
“Daddy,” he tells Thomas, “I thought they killed you when I heard the big bang.”