Two Black pastors stranded after blowing a tire on their way home say they were relieved when they saw a sheriff’s deputy pull over, but quickly realized the officer wasn’t there to help.
Minister John Patterson phoned his insurance company that morning in May after pulling his disabled Chevy Silverado over to the side of I-95, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported. A tow truck was about 40 minutes out with a spare tire and before it could arrive, Patterson and his fishing buddy, Min. Demetrius Williams, noticed a Waukesha County sheriff’s patrol car pull up behind them.
“We thought maybe he was going to put out some cones or something,” Patterson told the newspaper.
Deputy Erik Michaelsen stepped out and asked if they’d called for a patrol car. They told him no, and that the insurance company was sending out a tow truck.
That’s when the men say Michaelsen asked if they had any guns or drugs in the car, to which they insisted they did not and explained that they were pastors. The deputy then proceeded to ask for their driver’s licenses, which he said was standard procedure.
“We’re pastors, driving home from fishing, and yet we’re treated with suspicion when we should have been offered assistance,” a frustrated Williams said.
Ten minutes later, Michaelsen returned with their licenses, slapped an orange sticker on Patterson’s boat trailer indicating when he encountered the disabled vehicle and quickly drove off.
“We were just stranded,” Patterson told the Journal Sentinel. “ … (We) got background checked and treated like criminals because we’re African-American men. We drove home feeling violated.”
Both men said they believe they were targeted because of their race.
Common Ground, a faith-based community action group, has since launched its own investigation into whether Patterson and Williams were racially profiled by the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office. The group has asked other drivers to come forward with their own experiences with other deputies.
“Take this to your churches, families, neighbors and workplaces,” said Gwen Mosier, a white resident of Pewaukee. “How does their story sit with you? Would everyone be treated this way?”
So far, Sheriff Eric Severson hasn’t agreed to meet with the group, however, a department captain was willing to answer questions about the incident earlier this month, according to the newspaper. The captain explained it was in Michaelson’s practice to ask every driver he approached if they had guns, saying his actions were appropriate.
In a statement, Severson said the department fully investigated the pastors’ claims but found no evidence of racial bias by the deputy.
Racially biased policing “is not trained, condoned or tolerated,” the sheriff said.
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