CLAYTON, Mo. -- The Clayton Police Department has issued an apology after its police officers falsely accused 10 Washington University students of not paying for their meal at an IHOP restaurant the night of July 7, reports CBS St. Louis affiliate KMOV-TV. The black incoming freshmen had just left the eatery when they were stopped by police, school officials confirmed.
Clayton police officers then made the students walk back to the restaurant, despite being shown some receipts proving the students had paid for the meals.
After officers escorted the students back to the IHOP, the manager said the students weren't the suspects.
The manager had contacted police to report that a $60 tab wasn't paid by a group of black customers. That's the procedure called for by IHOP policy.
A short time later, police spotted the group of teens. Police say they were stopped because they were the only ones nearby with IHOP bags in hand and were black.
The 10, who were on campus as part of a summer program, told KMOV-TV they felt that they'd been racially profiled.
Were they? ""I don't know how you can take that into account," Clayton Police Chief Kevin Murphy told KMOV-TV.
The school issued a statement expressing disappointment over the false accusations.
"The fact that these students, all of whom are African American, were scared and humiliated is unacceptable to us," Washington University said in the statement. "We have shared the sentiment with the City of Clayton and have had an opportunity to meet with city leaders to reiterate our concerns."
The Clayton P.D. said the IHOP involved had 45 "dine and dash" calls since January and that "collateral damage" such as the incident involving the students was an "additional cost of this kind of criminal activity."
The department also said it's open to ways it can perform better in similar situations.
"Our department has and will continue to study what could have been done better in this and in all incidents where we have complaints," the Clayton PD said in its statement. "Even without any apparent policy or legal violations, we look for ways to improve and make our officers even more effective in positive interactions."
An IHOP spokesman told News 4 "discrimination of any kind is not tolerated," when asked for comment.
Washington University's Association of Black Students released a statement demanding an apology:
The foundation of our current Association of Black Students (ABS) was birthed from the Association of Black Collegians' efforts in the late 1960s to shed light on the harassment of Black students at Washington University. Our main goal is not only to support our students as they work towards achieving a degree from Washington University, but also to provide a space where they can be Black and free of harassment, dehumanizing threats, and racial subjugation. The comments of Police Chief Murphy minimize the impact of his officers' conduct, thus invalidating the experience of those affected. Murphy characterizes this misconduct as a mere inconvenience -- this indicates that there is likely a significant failure on his part to understand the responsibility of law enforcement to ensure that civilians are treated with dignity and respect. The officers involved in this incident, a false accusation against ten Black Washington University students claiming that they left a restaurant without paying, engaged in the most dangerous form of racial profiling by relying solely on the race of the incoming students when stopping them. Such stops are illegal under the Fourth Amendment, which requires officers to have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that prompts them to engage and stop everyday citizens in a free society. The Association of Black Students (ABS) at Washington University in St. Louis demands an apology from the Clayton Police Department to our students as well as the findings of the internal report to which the Chief of Police, Kevin R. Murphy, commits himself. We also demand that the Clayton Police implement training in racial profiling and illegal stops which violate the Fourth Amendment rights of our citizens and perpetuates law enforcements' unacceptable violation of Black people. This unnecessary and dehumanizing event is important not only to ABS and the Washington University community, but also to the larger discussion on police-community relations, for the racism that fuels our law enforcement and criminal justice systems are not only life-threatening but ultimately unconstitutional. ABS is thrilled about the arrival of this year's incoming class and will continue to support them as they transition into what should be an exciting and rewarding experience not limited to our university, but also in Clayton and the greater city of St. Louis as well. We ask that you give our students privacy at this time.
Washington University's full statement:
We are deeply concerned and disappointed that anyone – certainly any of our students – would experience what transpired on July 7. The fact that these 10 students, all of whom are African American, were scared and humiliated is unacceptable to us. We have shared that sentiment directly with the City of Clayton and have had an opportunity to meet with city leaders to reiterate our concerns. Conversations continue and we are hopeful that our students will hear directly from the City of Clayton with both an explanation and an apology.
Like all of our Washington University students, the incoming first-year students who were involved in this incident are truly exceptional. They were recruited from all over the United States and, as high school students, worked tremendously hard with an eye toward attending an institution like ours. We, and many of our peer institutions, competed head-to-head to recruit them. The community in which they would learn, live, socialize and engage was a very important factor in deciding which school they would attend. We won their confidence and they chose to join our student body because they believed they would have an exceptional experience at Washington University and here in St. Louis. It is extremely disappointing that they have been so seriously let down, even before the official start of their first semester.
Washington University and the City of Clayton, one of the jurisdictions we call home, have a long-standing, positive working relationship. We hope and would expect that a situation like this would be avoided in the future.
The full statement released by the Clayton P.D.:
We are so sorry this was the start for these newest Washington University in St. Louis Bears. For more than one hundred years we have welcomed university students from around the world to be a part of our community. While it is our duty to respond when businesses call for help, we aim to do this in a way that is as respectful and safe for all concerned as we can be. Chief Murphy has reached out to the university within hours of hearing about this to try to meet with these students to both hear what they have to say, but also to assure them (and their families who may be distant) that Clayton and Washington University have a long and proud tradition of safety and support for all students.
This particular restaurant has had 45 "dine and dash" calls since January. It is sad and unfortunate that so many people treat this business this way. The additional cost of this kind of criminal activity is that it leaves the community open to collateral damage such as this incident. Our department has and will continue to study what could have been done better in this and in all incidents where we have complaints. Even without any apparent policy or legal violations, we look for ways to improve and make our officers even more effective in positive interactions.
Outside of learning how to be better, we are most concerned at this point with restoring the confidence of these newest Clayton residents that they are safe and welcome in Clayton. We look forward to meeting with them soon.