When a Jefferson County grand jury declined to indict 20-year-old Craig Dean and his cousins on felony robbery charges Tuesday, it was the end of a months-long nightmare.
On March 22, Dean and his three cousins Shaquazz Allen, 18, Jerron Bush, 21, and Tyrone Booker Jr., 19, were sitting on the front porch of a west Louisville house after deciding to play video games rather than drive around town.
Hours earlier, a large group of teenagers went on a violent tear through downtown Louisville.
“The day for me started out great,” Dean said.
That day, Dean went to his cousin’s home in West Louisville to play video games.
“Right after that the police had pulled up when we got there, like, not even 10 minutes later while we was sitting on the porch,” he said.
A police report alleges the four African-American men approached a woman, who is white, at the bus stop just two blocks from Bush’s home. The perpetrators pointed a revolver at the woman’s head and took her purse and cell phone before heading north on 39th Street, the report said.
When officers headed in that direction they eventually saw the four, but Booker said the cousins were not alarmed.
“What we did was basically say, ‘Look we’ll answer their questions and answer anything they have to ask us.’ But that’s not how it went,” he said. “They gave us questions, we answered their questions, and then boom, they said line up against the gate and just threw the lights on us.”
Police brought the woman and her boyfriend to the house where he quickly identified the four as the men who robbed them at gunpoint, according to a police report.
At that point Booker and his cousins were taken to Metro Corrections and accused of first-degree robbery, among other crimes.
The violent outbreak at Waterfront Park on March 22 resulted in more than a dozen incident reports and public criticism of police, which put Mayor Greg Fischer’s office and the department on its heels.
Dean said the entire incident was unknown to the so-called “Misidentified 4″ because they were in jail.
“We found out about it while we was in jail,” he said. “That’s how we learned about the Waterfront Park. We didn’t even know about it until two days after.”
During their brief time in jail, Dean and his cousin’s mug shots were broadcast on local television. Soon victims of the March 22 incident stepped forward to say Allen and Booker had assaulted them on First and Liberty streets, according a police news release.
On March 28 police touted they had picked up the two, who were on home incarceration while out of jail on bond.
Allen and Booker soon faced charges for the First and Liberty incident—unlawful imprisonment and assault. In that case, investigators alleged the two of throwing a garbage can at a car and punching a driver repeatedly, according to police reports.
“We was never there,” said Booker. “We didn’t even stop by there. We wasn’t even thinking about Waterfront Park.”
Allen and Booker sat in Metro Corrections for two months, which was an unnerving situation for their parents, who reached out to defense attorney Jan Waddell for help.
The parents also sought aid from Louisville civil rights groups.
“They came and told their story, and they were in tears and afraid of what was going to happen to their sons,” said Kathleen Parks, head of the Louisville chapter of the National Action Network.
It wasn’t long after that when grassroots organizers began calling them the “Misidentified 4″ and raising awareness about their case.
That was a difficult task in the midst of public reaction to the violent outbreak downtown, and media coverage that showed an endless loop of black teens jumping on cars and looting a downtown gas station.
City officials held forums where a consistent theme was that parents needed to do a better job controlling their children.
Parks said other civil rights groups, fearful of a backlash, initially turned down working with the four young men.
“The March 22 incident kind of shook up the whole city,” she said. “I don’t think the mayor’s office nor the police department really knew how to deal with it at that particular moment. I still don’t feel like they know what happened that day.”
LMPD Chief Defends Arrests
The four men and their attorney said they believe the entire case is a classic case of racial profiling— overzealous police trying to make an arrest, apprehending suspects based solely on race.
Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad told WFPL the arrests in this case were based on probable cause, and that officers had enough facts to back up their actions.
“In this case and with every case when we have a crime that is reported, if the victims or witnesses have an opportunity to see the suspects, we take descriptions,” Conrad said in an interview Tuesday. “In this case the witness said four young black males dressed in hoodies. The whole issue of race and sex and clothing were given to us by the victims.”
“They fit the description that was given to us by the witness. It wasn’t a case of racial profiling. It was a case of officers doing their job.”
The description the woman and her boyfriend provided to police investigators was of four black males, ages 16-20, wearing black hoodies and gray sweat pants, and one with dreadlocks, according to reports.
When officers initially came up to the four men, Booker did have dreadlocks as the witness described one of the assailants. Only two were wearing black hoodies, however, according to court filings from Waddell. None had on gray sweat pants.
The woman was also unable to provide officers with a description of any perpetrator and admitted she hadn’t seen the gunman’s face, according to police records.
Waddell said the 911 tapes also show the operator was the one who first said something about hoodies and their color, which he claims was suggestive.
“We did not fit that description,” said Dean.
“If that’s the case they should say everybody at the Waterfront fit that description because they were all wearing black hoodies,” said Booker.
‘Not a Fan of the Police’
Waddell said he plans to file a civil lawsuit against Metro Police in the coming months on the four men’s arrest.
He told WFPL he has been in contact with lawyers with the Innocence Project in New York.
This comes as Metro Police are hoping to release a racial profiling study this summer conducted by the University of Louisville to show the lack of bias in their traffic stops.
Civil rights leaders are now calling for an independently elected civilian review board to oversee police in order to restore community trust in the department.
The real change from this case, Waddell said, is the loss of faith this case gives all African-American men in Louisville.
Booker said the four young men have a profound distrust of Metro Police and the criminal justice system as a result of their case.
“The system is a joke to me,” said Booker. “The way they did us they had us sitting in there two months – that was too long. It’s not innocent until proven guilty, it’s guilty until proven innocent. That’s how the justice system is to me. I’m not a fan of the police.”
Reporters Jacob Ryan and Michael Homan contributed to this story