Black students wrongly accused of leaving without paying

July 16, 2018 GMT

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Police in a St. Louis suburb are reviewing what happened after 10 black college students were stopped by officers and escorted with squad cars back to a restaurant after being wrongfully suspected of leaving without paying.

The incident occurred earlier this month in Clayton. Police Chief Kevin Murphy said Monday that an internal review was launched after complaints from the parents of one of the students.

The students, all incoming freshmen at Washington University, a prestigious school that sits at the boundary of St. Louis and Clayton, were walking to a light rail station after a late-night meal at an IHOP restaurant. They were stopped by two officers around 12:30 a.m. July 8. The restaurant manager had told police that a group of young black men left without paying a $62 tab.

The students had eaten at the restaurant and some were carrying to-go bags, Murphy said. Some of the students showed officers receipts for their meals, Murphy said, but the group agreed to walk back and talk with the restaurant manager. The university said six squad cars followed the students, though Murphy believed the number was four.

Back at the restaurant, the manager told police the students were not those who left without paying, and the students were told they were free to go, Murphy said.

Five university officials met with Murphy on Thursday to express their concern.

“The fact that these 10 students, all of whom are African American, were scared and humiliated is unacceptable to us,” Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Jill Friedman said in a statement Monday.

The students were recruited from throughout the U.S., Friedman wrote. They were on campus as part of a five-week summer program that helps students prepare for university life.

“It is extremely disappointing that they have been so seriously let down, even before the official start of their first semester,” Friedman wrote.

Murphy said he was sorry the students were upset but noted that the same restaurant has reported 45 instances this year in which patrons left without paying.

“I’m not sure how you handle the situation differently when you’re called for service,” he said.

IHOP spokeswoman Stephanie Peterson said that the restaurant chain for 60 years “has proudly been a welcoming and safe place for those in our communities and our franchisees continually strive to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable.”