Lower Merion Police Say Lower Merion Police Did Nothing Wrong in Controversial Stop

South Ardmore residents and the Main Line NAACP complained about a stop where a local man was handcuffed after a report of a nearby bank robbery. Everything went according to the rules, say the police.

Nathaniel Williams (left). Photo | Sandy Smith

Nathaniel Williams (left). Photo | Sandy Smith

The officers who ordered 56-year-old Nathaniel Williams to his knees, then handcuffed him, in a stop connected to a reported robbery at a TD Bank branch in Haverford acted in accordance with department procedure, according to an internal review conducted by the Lower Merion Police Department.

The LMPD reviewed the incident in response to a complaint filed November 2nd by the Main Line branch of the NAACP concerning the October 26th stop. The stop also sparked a protest at the November 4th Township Commissioners meeting, where South Ardmore residents added their testimony of similar treatment by police and called for reforms in police practices and police-community relations.

According to the internal review, three plainclothes detectives, Lt. Christopher Polo and officers Walter Kerr and Brian Layton, were responding to a report of a robbery at the bank in an unmarked car when they spotted Williams standing at a bus stop on Lancaster Avenue just east of the bank. The report described the robbery suspect as a “black male, approximately 6′ tall, medium build, and approximately 40 to 50 years of age, wearing glasses and a brown hooded sweatshirt.” Williams happened to be wearing a brown hooded sweatshirt and glasses.

According to the internal report, the officers called for a marked patrol car as backup and got out of their car. Detective Layton, who is African American, told Williams to drop to his knees. At first he did not follow the command, but he complied on the second demand. A uniformed officer then handcuffed him, and Williams was then helped to his feet and searched for weapons. Finding none, Layton, the report continues, then asked Williams for permission to search his duffel bag while they waited for bank personnel to arrive. Williams gave permission; the search turned up nothing connecting him to the robbery. By this time, a bank employee had arrived on the scene and affirmed that Williams was not the man they were looking for.

After being uncuffed, Williams reportedly told the officers on the scene that he felt he had been stopped solely because he was black. Layton responded that he was a 19-year veteran of the force and that the stop “had nothing to do with black and white.” He then explained that the description of the suspect the victim gave unfortunately matched his appearance, then said, “I am sorry that you had to go through this situation, but I would not have been doing my job if I would not have stopped you.” The review states that the two then shook hands as Williams said he understood and caught his bus for his doctor’s appointment.

The report says that the entire incident was over in just over four minutes. The report’s main findings were that the stop was conducted in accordance with department policy, training and “all legal standards for the stopping of a suspect possibly connected to a violent crime.” While the only weapon pointed at Williams during the incident was a Taser, the report states that department policies and standards for dealing with violent crime suspects would have allowed the police who responded to draw their guns. It adds that handcuffing a possible suspect in a violent crime is done to reduce the risk of flight and physical confrontation.

The report then concludes, “The Police Department fully recognizes that innocent people stopped in a situation such as this naturally feel anxious, humiliated and ill-treated. This is not only understandable, but reasonable. It is for this reason that our officers are trained to explain their actions and communicate with citizens throughout these encounters. The intent of conducting a felony stop in this tactical fashion is solely focused on assuring the safety of all individuals involved, which as stated previously, are the person stopped (innocent citizen or criminal suspect), innocent bystanders and the officers themselves.”

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