Fact Check: San Diego Police Say Photo Does NOT Show Officer Pointing His Gun At A Boy, But Videos Suggest A More Nuanced Reality

Fact Check

  • by: Dana Ford
Fact Check: San Diego Police Say Photo Does NOT Show Officer Pointing His Gun At A Boy, But Videos Suggest A More Nuanced Reality Call To Review

Did a San Diego police officer point his gun at a young boy during a traffic stop? Police say no, that's not true, but various videos of the incident, including those released by police, suggest both the still-photo-based claim and the police narrative leave out important context. Police video shows the officer had his gun drawn and pointed in the direction of the car as the child climbed out of it. Body camera video shows the officer then pointed his gun away from the child as the boy approached. A local lawmaker has called on police to review how children are treated during traffic stops.

The claim appeared in an Instagram post (archived here) published on March 10, 2021. The post included a photo that seemingly showed an officer pointing his gun at a boy, along with a message that read:

San Diego Police pointed a gun at a young child yesterday. You can't reform this. Witnesses say a PERT (Psychiatric Emergency Response Team) Clinician was consoling the child for at least an hour afterwards. The child was visibly shaken, and crying.

This is what users saw on social media at the time of writing:

In response to the viral photo, San Diego police released body-worn camera (BWC) videos of the incident that occurred on March 9, 2021. According to police, an officer saw a vehicle speeding and attempted to conduct a traffic stop. The car did not immediately stop, so the officer called for backup. When the vehicle pulled over, officers initiated what they then considered to be a high-risk stop. Police said:

The BWC is being released due to misinformation which is circulating on social media regarding this incident. We hope the video provides clarity.

They specifically addressed the claim that the officer pointed his gun at the boy, stating:

Based on this photo, some have speculated the officer was pointing his gun at the juvenile. But, the officer's body worn camera shows that at no time was that the case.

You can watch police video of the controversial traffic stop below:

The videos show an officer pointing his gun at the vehicle as the driver gets out of the car. The driver follows officers' instructions, putting his hands in the air and walking backwards, slowly, toward the officers. They then turn their attention to the passenger's side of the car where the driver's son sits. As the boy climbs out of the vehicle, an officer is seen pointing his gun in the direction of the car. The boy is told:

Hey, bud, just put your hands up for us, all right? Just come towards us, all right? Come over here.

The child complies, holding his hands above his head.

Meanwhile, the driver -- the boy's father -- can be heard asking the officer to redirect his weapon. He said:

Can you take that gun off him? He's 8 years old.

Video shows the officer aiming his gun away as the child approached.

The child is asked to sit on the curb and told he can put his hands down. Later, an officer can be heard addressing the boy, saying:

Your dad was supposed to pull over when that siren was going, and he didn't for whatever reason, so we don't know what's going on -- and that's why we had to pull out the guns and stuff like that. We don't know who he is; we don't know who you are; we don't know who's in the car. That's why, bud, OK? You, you're not in trouble, OK?

The driver was issued a misdemeanor citation for reckless driving, and his car was impounded. According to police, he and his son left together after the citation was issued.

Besides the police video, which captured the traffic stop from the perspective of the officers, the incident was recorded by someone positioned in front of the car. You can watch that video, which was posted to YouTube, below:

The witness video shows more of what happened after the traffic stop. As officers searched the car, someone with "PERT" written on the back of their shirt appeared to speak with the boy as he sat on the curb. PERT stands for Psychiatric Emergency Response Team.

In response to the videos, San Diego City Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe, chair of the Committee on Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods, released a statement that called on police to review how children are treated during traffic stops. She wrote on Twitter:

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria also responded to the incident. In a statement emailed to Lead Stories on March 12, 2021, he said:

There is no doubt that it is disturbing to see the image of a child holding his hands up while a police officer has his weapon drawn. It was important to me to quickly release the body-worn camera footage of the incident so everyone could see the truth of what occurred.

The mayor said that any formal complaints would be reviewed by the City's Commission on Police Practices.

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