Pennsylvania State Police say they are investigating an alleged racial profiling incident that took place in affluent Chadds Ford July 8, during which a high-ranking Astra Zeneca executive was handcuffed in his driveway before being cited for a minor traffic infraction.
“Due to the nature of the ongoing Internal Affairs Department investigation, we cannot comment on specifics of the incident,” said state police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski in a statement. “However, the Pennsylvania State Police takes any allegations of racial profiling or bias-based policing very seriously. If a complaint is received, it is thoroughly investigated by the Bureau of Integrity and Professional Standards.”
The complaint lodged by Rodney and Angela Gillespie, both 52, claims they were coming home from a family gathering at about 12:30 a.m. when they were pulled over by 23-year-old Trooper Christopher Johnson. Their 17-year-old daughter was sleeping in the back seat and Angela had reclined her seat as well, making it appear that Rodney was alone in the car, according to an account published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Johnson, who had been a trooper for about two months, allegedly came up to the couple’s car with his hand on his gun and began peppering the couple with a series of disrespectful questions.
“They screamed, ‘How could you – a black man – own a property like this?’, stuff like that,” said the couple’s attorney, Sam Stretton. “It’s unacceptable.”
Rodney Gillespie could not be reached for comment Friday, but Stretton said the Gillespies have owned the home for about 12 years. The family recently returned to America after spending six years abroad in London and Johannesburg for Gillespie’s job, according to the Inquirer story.
During the confrontation, Johnson allegedly pulled Rodney Gillespie out of the car and handcuffed him. Two other troopers arrived and allegedly continued shouting questions until Angela was able to prove their identities.
At that point the handcuffs came off, but Rodney Gillespie was still given a $142 ticket for crossing a yellow line as he turned off Webb Road onto Atwater Road, as well as a $102 ticket for pulling into his well-lit driveway rather than stopping on an unlit street. Rodney paid the first ticket, but the second was dismissed, according to the Inquirer.
Gillespie told the Inquirer the troopers said there had been a rash of break-ins in the neighborhood. Johnson also told the couple that he began following the couple on Baltimore Pike near Harvey Road, according to the story, about 2 miles from their home.
Stretton said the incident was extremely traumatizing to the family, especially Angela.
“She thought her husband was going to be killed,” he said. “It was clear to me that the police overreacted and, because of his race, treated him as if he was a criminal.”
Tarkowski said troopers receive “Racial Profiling and Biased Based Profiling Awareness and Prevention" training, which emphasizes that disparate treatment of any person on the basis of racial or ethnic status rather than reasonable suspicion is strictly prohibited and is in violation of state police policy.
Stretton said he hopes this complaint will result in some changes to training and state police practices, as well as corrective action for the troopers involved.
“Hopefully this will have the desired effect,” he said. “You overcome racism and bias with education. That’s what they need.”