Stanford police are under scrutiny after an officer drew a gun on a Black driver over the weekend, an incident that has gained national attention following a viral Twitter thread from a witness.
The Stanford Department of Public Safety is reviewing the incident and has asked the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office to also conduct a review, according to a Monday, Jan. 30, announcement from the university. The Sheriff's Office oversees Stanford's police officers. Stanford's Community Board on Public Safety will also be given information about the incident, the university said.
Jessica Stovall, a Stanford doctoral candidate, posted on Twitter about how she had watched as a white police officer drew a gun on a young Black man at around 11 p.m. on Saturday night. According to Stovall, the incident occurred at a busy roundabout on campus and she could hear someone say "put your hands up" through her headphones. The officers ultimately released the man.
"I refuse to normalize this type of behavior of cops. This man was never arrested, and yet, he had a gun drawn on him," Stovall wrote. "Police interactions like this cannot go quietly into that dark night."
As of Tuesday morning, Stovall's Twitter thread had 2.8 million views and nearly 20,000 likes.
Stanford released a statement on Monday, noting that there have been social media accounts of the incident, and gave a police account of what happened. According to police, a Stanford deputy saw a parked car with trash next to it in the lot of a student residence. The officer observed packages in the back seat. The driver said that he was a delivery driver, asked if he was free to leave and then drove away, police said.
Dispatchers ran the license plate number and saw that there was an arrest warrant for the registered owner, whose driving privileges were suspended, according to police. Another deputy then stopped the car on campus and when the driver allegedly didn't follow directions to exit the vehicle, an officer pointed his gun at the car, police said. The original deputy took his gun out of its holster, but kept it at his side, police said.
Officers then determined that the driver wasn't the registered owner of the car. They cited him for possession of marijuana in an unsealed container in the compartment of a motor vehicle and released him, police said.
The incident comes at a time of heightened scrutiny around police use of force, after video was released of Memphis police officers beating Tyre Nichols, a Black man, on Jan. 7. Nichols died three days later. The initial police account of the incident was contradicted by video that was later released.
Stanford's statement acknowledged the national conversation over police misconduct.
"We understand the level of distrust many persons have about the police, especially persons of color," Department of Public Safety Director Laura Wilson said in the release. "The recent tragic death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of persons who were police officers emphasizes why distrust is warranted."
Data released by Stanford in 2021 shows a disproportionate number of police interactions with Black individuals, compared to their share of the campus community. Black people make up 4% of Stanford's community, but 9% of arrests and 15% of field interviews, according to the report. Black people's share of citations matched their share of the population, both at 4%.
The university noted in the report that individuals police interact with are not necessarily affiliated with Stanford, making data comparisons more complex. Across Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco and Alameda counties, Black people make up 5% of the population, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Stovall's Twitter thread highlighted the impact that incidents like the one this weekend can have on those involved, regardless of whether someone is arrested.
"All this, right after the video release of Mr. Tyre Nichols's murder. Black folk aren't safe even on one of the most elite campuses in the world," Stovall wrote. "And I share all this to say, yes. He was able to go home. But with what damage to him? To those of us who witnessed? I didn't sleep."