A suburban Chicago police officer has been disciplined after a video went viral showing him yelling at a group of teenagers, threatening to arrest them and saying they were being detained based on their race.
On Tuesday, Lake Villa Police Chief Craig Somerville said an officer was conducting a theft investigation when he ordered five teenagers to sit down on the curb.
Dezi Baczek, 18, who recorded a video of the incident and posted it online, said that when they left the pawn shop, the officer made them all sit down “without any reasoning.”
“I was yelled at to sit down,” Baczek told WMAQ. “I said, ‘What’s the reason?’ And he said sit down or I could turn around and be arrested, so I sat down at that point.”
Baczek said that she began recording just after they were told to sit down.
The video opens with Lake Villa Police Detective Esteban Gomez threatening to arrest one of the teens.
“You think you’re a tough guy?” Gomez yells.
“What, are you going to hit me?” the teen asks.
“No! Why would I hit you?” Gomez responds.
“Because you’re screaming at me,” the teen says.
Gomez then turns to all the teens and asks them which one of them has “the weed on them?”
The teens laugh at the question, at which point Gomez walks away. While he is walking to another car, one of the teens in the video can be heard asking Gomez why they are being detained.
“Because I’m a teen? Because I have baggy pants?” one of the teens asks.
“Because you’re white,” Gomez replies.
The video quickly went viral, racking up more than 47,000 views in just over 24 hours.
Baczek’s mother said that she called the police to complain about the incident and told Somerville that she was “outraged.”
“I was very upset,” Missy Maczek told WMAQ. “I felt like we were being outcasted because we’re white, which is just unheard of.”
On Tuesday, Somerville said that an internal investigation into the incident found Gomez had responded to the teens “inappropriately and unprofessionally.” He added that Gomez has been disciplined for “behavior unbecoming an officer.”
“Detective Gomez admitted his words were poorly chosen and insensitive, and he immediately regretted what he had said,” Somerville said in a statement posted on the department’s Facebook page. “He will be assisting me with speaking to the parents and teens involved in this incident. I apologize to anyone who may have been offended by what is depicted on this video.”
However, Somerville did not specify how Gomez would be disciplined for his actions.
Baczek told the Lake County News-Sun that she did not know the person who gave them a ride was under investigation for theft. In the Facebook post, Baczek said that they had been traveling with “someone who got into trouble,” but they “didn't know anything about it till that point.”
One of the teens was also charged with obstructing police after giving a fake name to Gomez.
Baczek said that she was called down to the police station and Somerville apologized to her.
“I honestly believe the chief means it,” Baczek told the Lake County News-Sun.