COLUMBIA, S.C. — A 71-year-old Black man in South Carolina was embarrassed and feared for his life when a police officer looking for teens who might have been breaking in cars held him outside naked and at gunpoint after he peeked out his door to check on the disturbance, the man said in a lawsuit.
Body camera video showed Jethro DeVane tell the officer in June 2019 he lived in the Rock Hill home and the officer cursed at him and told him not to close the door.
The officer ordered DeVane to stand outside his home naked at 4 a.m., facing the wall. DeVane asked what was going on and officer Vincent Mentesana told him “I don’t want to talk to you,” according to the body camera video.
The officer held the gun to DeVane’s head for 90 seconds as other officers looked through his home, then once he got the all clear, asked DeVane his name and told him why police were in the neighborhood, according to the video DeVane and his lawyer obtained through a public records request.
“I did what the man said. He had the weapon. He could have took my life in a minute,” DeVane said.
No one saw teens in DeVane’s yard and police did not have a search warrant for the house, according to the lawsuit which claims gross negligence, emotional distress and false imprisonment. The suit does not ask for a specific dollar amount.
DeVane’s lawyer released the video Tuesday, a day after DeVane sued the city. Attorney Justin Bamberg said it reminded him of police video out of Chicago that surfaced earlier this month of police breaking down the door of a Black woman’s apartment as she was changing clothes and handcuffing her while she was naked.
Bamberg said police were running around with guns drawn, cursing and barking orders just to find teens who might have broken in a car before making a Black man in his 70s stand naked in his yard — something that never would happen in a rich, white neighborhood.
“Why do we have to be here advocating for human decency and human dignity? It is utterly ridiculous and it is unacceptable,” Bamberg said Tuesday. “And it needs to stop before there is a death. God forbid, if Mr. DeVane had panicked like a lot of people would and tried to close that door.”
‘Detained by Officers for Safety’
DeVane’s lawsuit said the Rock Hill police chief found officer Mentesana was discourteous, but acted properly, along with the officers who went inside his home and searched it without a warrant.
Rock Hill Police spokesman Lt. Michael Chavis said the department does not comment on pending lawsuits. He referred questions about whether Mentesana was still employed with the department or disciplined to the city’s human relations, which did not respond to an email.
In a news release shortly after the incident, police said officers who saw the teens running noticed DeVane’s house with tall grass, no lights and open door and a dirty swimming pool. They thought it might be abandoned and the teens could be inside.
The officers saw DeVane who was “detained by officers for safety” and searched his home in the interest of public safety, the news release said.
DeVane spoke at Tuesday’s news conference beside his lawyer. He said he was embarrassed because there was at least one woman among the officers at his home and watching the body camera footage again made him fear for his life all over again because he felt if he tried to close the door, grab some clothes or argued, the officer with the gun to his head would fire.
“I won’t get over it the rest of my life,” DeVane said.
DeVane also said some people wonder why he came to the door nude. He said he was in his house, saw bright flashlights coming toward it and didn’t think.
“I didn’t have my clothes on that night. Why? I’m in my house,” he said.
DeVane said the police chief came to his home later that month to discuss what happened and said he probably shouldn’t sleep naked.
“Like I told him, if you had let me know you were coming, I would have put my clothes on,” DeVane said.