When a Black real estate agent glanced out the window of a house he was showing and saw a police officer circling the property with his gun drawn, he was afraid there was a fugitive in the yard.
“This is kind of a nice house, but there’s a criminal outside,” Eric Brown said he thought to himself when he saw the officer.
At the time, he was giving Roy Thorne and the man’s 15-year-old son, Sammy, a tour of a Wyoming, Michigan, home.
“He’s not going to buy this house now,” Brown worried.
However, he said he grew less concerned with making a sale and more concerned with staying safe when he noticed a second officer “behind a tree making hand gestures.”
Before the afternoon was over, police officers would order the trio out of the home and place them in handcuffs.
A typical showing
Brown, 46, with Grand Rapids Real Estate, arrived at the two-story, two-garage, brick-covered home at 2 p.m. Sunday and did what he always does. He tested the doorbell, used an app on his phone to open a lockbox that held the key and let himself in before his client arrived in order to open the closets and bedroom doors.
Thorne, 45, who Brown has known since they were teens, and Sammy arrived 10 minutes later.
The three waved to neighbors outside doing Sunday things — the guy who was mowing the lawn, the family next door who was hosting an outdoor gathering.
They didn’t notice when the officers arrived.
‘Get out of the line of fire’
Brown knew the doors of the house were open. He feared a suspect was on the loose and might try come in the house to hide.
“If there’s anywhere to run, it’s going to be in this house,” he remembered thinking.
“They’re about to flush a criminal in to this house. We’re going to be hostages in here, and Sammy’s in the basement.”
Sammy suddenly rushed upstairs to report that there were more police officers in front of the home.
Thorne, who is also Black and is an Army veteran, told his son to “get out of the line of fire,” and opened a window to address the officers, Brown said.
“They were so focused on organizing themselves that they didn’t hear him screaming,” Brown told NBC News on Friday. “When the officer did hear him, the officer pointed his gun at the house.”
“That’s when I knew they were there for us,” he added.
‘It does something to you’
Brown said he and his clients were ordered to come downstairs and exit the front of the house one at a time, with their hands up.
“We realized, OK this has been going on for some time,” he said.
Three or four police vehicles were parked with their wheels on the sidewalk. And officers, using their open SUV doors as shields and with guns drawn, were waiting for the trio to emerge from the house.
As Brown, Thorne and Sammy exited the house, they were instructed to turn around and walk toward the officers backward.
“When you have several guns pointed at you and they tell you to turn around, it does something to you,” Brown said.
‘I’m just showing the house’
All three were handcuffed. Brown asked what the disturbance was and didn’t get an answer. Before he was about to be placed in the cruiser, he urged an officer to go into his pocket, pull out his wallet and find his business card, showing that he is a real estate agent. “I’m just showing the house,” he said.
The officer paused, and asked how Brown got in the house. Still handcuffed, Brown said he was led back to the entrance of the house to demonstrate how he got the key out of the lockbox.
The officers, with the Wyoming Police Department, took the handcuffs off the three and apologized, Brown said. They told him the house recently had a squatter. The squatter’s black Mercedes resembled Brown’s black Genesis.
But he couldn’t shake the feeling that in the overwhelmingly white neighborhood, he, his friend and his friend’s son had been racially profiled.
“This feels wrong. It feels bad,” Brown said. “My heart’s racing. Sammy looks 10 shades lighter. He’s clearly terrified and traumatized by the situation.” Meanwhile, the officers “just pulled off.”
He counted up to seven officers, all white. He said they did “zero due diligence” when they arrived to the house. They didn’t announce themselves or try to ring the doorbell.
“They didn’t come there to talk. The way that they moved around the house, Roy with his military training recognized that posturing. It flipped from we’re showing a house to we need to make it out of here alive,” Brown said. “I trusted that we were in danger, very serious danger.”
The Wyoming Police Department did not respond to multiple requests from NBC News for comment.
In a statement to NBC affiliate WOOD of Grand Rapids, Capt. Timothy Pols said officers were responding to “a 911 call from a neighbor reporting that a house was being broken into.”
“Officers were aware that a previous burglary had occurred at this same address on July 24 and that a suspect was arrested and charged for unlawful entry during that incident. The caller indicated that the previously arrested suspect had returned and again entered the house,” the statement said.
Brown, Thorne and Sammy were handcuffed “per department protocol,” Pols said. He did not address the officers surrounding the house with guns drawn or failing to announce themselves.
While Brown and Thorne are now speaking with a lawyer, he said they are focused on getting emotional support for Sammy, Thorne and himself “to heal as fast as we can.”
“I went from being afraid for my life to shellshocked to this is not right to now slightly angry,” Brown said.
“I felt definitely guilty of breaking into this house,” he said. “And I had the keys to it.”