Mom, city at odds over alleged incident during investigation.
By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — The combination of a preteen boy, his dog and plain-clothes police officers with guns drawn has one mother upset and looking for answers and city officials asking questions.
For Desiree Johnson, of Youngstown, and her 12-year-old son, Benjamin “Benji” Roberts, July 10 was much like any other summer day. Johnson was enjoying the afternoon on the front porch, and her son was about 100 yards away playing basketball.
Johnson said she realized her son had not cleaned up his bedroom and had his sister go down the street and get him to return home so he could finish his chores.
It was then that the day became anything but ordinary.
Johnson said her son, accompanied by the family’s large mixed-breed dog, Lucky, ran home at her request. She said they were met in the rear of the home by several police officers with their guns drawn.
“They had guns on my 12-year-old son,” she said. “They searched him in his groin area. My son’s eyes looked like they were going to pop out of his head.
“This is unacceptable. What if he had made one wrong move?”
Benji, who Johnson says is now fearful of certain situations and is not sleeping well, said he remembers the incident clearly.
“I turned in the driveway and saw them, and stopped. The dog started going crazy, so I grabbed the dog, and they started searching me,” he said. “They said I could have broken into a house or had drugs on me.”
Police Chief Jimmy Hughes denied his officers pointed weapons at the youth.
Hughes said officers were in the Kenmore Avenue area investigating alleged drug sales by a teenage boy that had taken place earlier in the day. Officers were on surveillance in the neighborhood and saw Benji running toward a house and wanted to make sure he had nothing to do with the investigation, Hughes said.
The problem, Hughes said, came when officers encountered the boy, and Lucky, a large, golden retriever/Labrador mix, became aggressive toward officers. Officers drew their weapons and pointed them at the dog because the animal was threatening, the chief said.
Hughes maintained Lucky was not leashed or collared at the time of the altercation, and officers were in fear for their safety.
“The officers’ side of this is that they did not point any guns at the child. They pointed guns at the dog. The dog was the target the whole time,” he said. “This would have been a lot better if the dog were leashed. This would have been a lot better if the dog [were] not aggressive.”
Mayor Jay Williams said he has spoken with Johnson and assured her the city will look into the incident. He said the situation is cause for concern but maintained there are two sides to the story.
“I will be looking into the situation, and we will be getting back to her,” said Williams. “These officers are well-trained and concerned about the safety of the citizens, but because of the concern [Johnson] expressed, we have an obligation to look into the situation.”
Johnson said whatever is determined to be the cause does not justify the fear her son now deals with on a daily basis.
“There is no excuse for what they did,” she said. “My son is a good kid, no trouble anywhere, ever. My son should not have to walk around scared. [Kids] should see the police and feel comfortable, not get scared.”