The charges against three teens arrested while waiting for a bus last week will soon be dismissed, but as their story continues to spread around the country, they're asking for something more: an explanation.
"The young men are asking me 'Coach, why? Why were we arrested?' " said Jacob Scott, who coaches the boys — all members of the Edison Tech (Rochester, N.Y.) varsity basketball team.
The arrest touched off an outcry locally, and came under national scrutiny — a CNN camera crew was at Tuesday night's basketball game — but the answer to that question still isn't clear.
Rochester police, in an emailed statement, said the teens were arrested about 9 a.m. Nov. 27 when an officer assigned to a post at North Clinton Avenue and East Main Street saw "a group of individuals congregating on the sidewalk in front of a store on East Main Street, obstructing pedestrian traffic, and the entrance to the store." The teens didn't follow an order to disperse, the news release said, and were arrested for disorderly conduct.
But the teens — Raliek Redd, 16, Wan'Tauhjs Weathers and Daequon Carelock, both 17 — said they were simply obeying their coach by waiting for a bus to take them to a basketball scrimmage when an officer ordered them to leave.
"We tried to let him know ... that we weren't bad kids. We were just waiting for a bus to go to a scrimmage. It seemed like he didn't care," Weathers said Tuesday.
"I said, 'You gotta believe us,' " Carelock recalled. "When we were all in handcuffs, he looked through our bags and seen all our basketball stuff, so you know we're not lying. We're all not down there with basketball stuff, just chilling."
On Tuesday, District Attorney Sandra Doorley said she wouldn't prosecute the case. "After reviewing the facts associated with these arrests, I have decided to dismiss the charges in the interest of justice," she said in an emailed statement, and declined to discuss it further until the matter was fully resolved.
Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard said Tuesday that he respects Doorley's decision but believes the arrest was justified. He suggested that there might be more to the event than has come to light.
The Liberty Pole area has been the scene of fights and unruly behavior by teens in the past, and the police statement said the RPD had received complaints from the proprietor of the nearby store about loitering and fights outside in the past.
But Scott said that wasn't what was going on last week. "Not all young males downtown are fighting. Not all young males are loitering. These young men were catching a bus to a scrimmage.''
Tuesday was opening night for Edison Tech's boys varsity basketball team.
"I feel great and I feel that now we can just focus on the season," Weathers said before the team took the court. "All of this is in the past, so I don't have to hear people saying, 'Oh, you were on the news.' "
Scott said he also was relieved the charges were dismissed, but the injury doesn't end there.
"They've been handcuffed, they've been arrested, they were fingerprinted, so they've gone through that trauma," said Scott, who said his attempt to explain why the boys were there resulted in him being threatened with arrest. "And then for them to see what I kind of had to go through as well, I'm hoping this could definitely be a teaching tool.''
Mayor-elect Lovely Warren, a friend and distant relative of Scott's, campaigned for mayor in part on a push to improve relations between the police and the city.
"I don't know what happened, and what would have made the police officer put the kids in the car," Warren said, and wondered why police didn't seek to confirm the boys' story before arresting them.
"Even the coach walked up and became engaged in it, but the demeanor and the attitude of the officer was like, 'I don't care who you are. I'm taking them to jail, you want to come down and pick them up in booking, and if I had a car for everybody else, I'd take you all down there, too.' "
Scott said he hoped to model positive behavior for the boys during the incident. "Trust me, it took everything in me to stay calm, but I did know also the repercussions," he said. "Instead of being an example, I wanted to show them an example of how to be in a situation that was totally out of my control."
Just waiting for bus
It's not yet clear whether the boys will need to return to court for the official dismissal of their charges, but Tuesday night's game was a chance to return to normalcy — sort of. After the game, all three were interviewed by CNN.
Scott and his players said they have heard no apologies or had any dialogue from or with any member of the Rochester Police Department, formally or informally.
"I really didn't think it was supposed to go this far," Carelock said. "I thought (the officer, who police have not named) should have just said, 'Alright kids, I'm going to give you a warning, and get moving.' If he did that, it would've been way more different than what it is now."
He said he was bothered that his parents got a call from the jail to come bail him out — all three made $200 bail. "What do you think mom is going to think?" he said. "'What happened, what did you do?' That's the same thing that my aunt said to me, 'What did you do? … you must have done something.' "
The idea that any teenager standing downtown is up to no good is what troubles Scott.
"We can't continue grouping people and labeling them because a few particular individuals do some things, that everyone who looks like them are going to do those things," he said Tuesday.
"In the past there's been loitering, there's been fights at this particular location, but on this particular day, none of my guys were loitering, and none of them were fighting. They were just there waiting for the bus."
Jon Hand also writes for the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle.