Clayton, Mo. City Manager Craig Owens
Screenshot: claytonmo.gov

City officials of Clayton, Mo., are finally issuing a formal apology after police officers wrongly accused 10 black Washington University students of dining and dashing at a local IHOP.

On Thursday, City Manager Craig Owens and Police Chief Kevin Murphy met with some of the students who were involved in the controversial encounter, where they heard directly how the incident impacted the students, according to statements provided to The Root by Washington U Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Jill Friedman.

As a result of that meeting, the city, through the city manager, issued an apology shortly after, expressing regret in how the situation was handled.

“The interaction with the students today was emotionally powerful. We left with a much better understanding of how the students were feeling the night of July 7, and what it is like to be a young African American who is confronted by the police. We, and Mayor Sanger, hope we are better people and intend to be better leaders because of the experience,” the statement issued by Owens read. “In hindsight, it is clear to us that we mishandled the interaction with these 10 Washington University students and lacked sensitivity about their everyday reality because of how racial bias affects their lives. For that, on behalf of the City of Clayton, we sincerely apologize.”

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The students were targeted by police after leaving IHOP following a late dinner. The students were walking to a MetroLink stop when officers stopped them and accused them of being dine-and-dash suspects. Some of the students produced receipts, but nonetheless, police made them all walk back to the restaurant, following them in six squad cars.

It was only when the group returned to the restaurant that management quickly informed police that they had gotten the wrong people. The officers reportedly then dismissed the humiliated and terrified students without apology.

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Washington University quickly rallied behind the 10 students, demanding an apology and standing by their sides throughout the entire process, refusing to back down.

On Thursday, officials offered some semblance of justice and accountability.

Owens called the unfortunate encounter “an opportunity for the city to learn and do better” and promised that steps will be taken to ensure that officers can continue to carry out their duties without bias.

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Those steps include completing a thorough investigation into the incident, inviting a third party in to examine the city’s policies and procedures and to also expand training programs in implicit bias for officers.

Owens promised that the information gathered will be shared publicly.

The police department will also be tasked with conducting “more regular and more intensive training focused on racial sensitivity and how to enhance it in carrying out our duty to serve.”

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Owens added that body cameras are expected to be introduced later this year to help provide accountability.

Last but not least, the city has suggested reaching out to Washington University and listening to members of that community.

“We would like for the city and our police department to have an ongoing dialogue about relations between our police and the community we serve, and the reality and impact of bias and discrimination in our everyday lives. If surrounding jurisdictions would like to join us, all the better,” Owens wrote.

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The university, according to Chancellor Mark Wrighton, will be an active partner with the city in implementing its action plan to help better the community.

“I do not know, in my lifetime, if I will see a day when young African-Americans aren’t counseled by their parents to be cautious of the police out of fear that something could go wrong. However, I am hopeful that by speaking up and speaking out and committing ourselves to change—on our campuses, in Clayton, and in the surrounding St.Louis region—we can make progress toward that day,” Wrighton said.