Philly police dispatcher after 911 call: 'group of males' was 'causing a disturbance' at Starbucks

Police stand outside Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets, in Philadelphia, on Monday, April 16, 2018. At the time, demonstrators were inside protesting the arrests of two black men. JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

In the 20-second 911 call that preceded the arrests of two black men in a Center City Philadelphia Starbucks on Thursday — an incident that has sparked international outrage — the caller said the men had refused to make a purchase or leave the store, according to audio of the call and subsequent police radio chatter released Tuesday by Philadelphia police.

According to the audio compilation, posted on the department’s YouTube page, a female caller dialed 911 at 4:37 p.m. and calmly spoke to an operator, saying: “Hi, I have two gentlemen in my cafe who are refusing to make a purchase or leave.” The operator said she would send police to the store at 18th and Spruce Streets, and the call ended.

Three minutes later, a male radio dispatcher said a “group of males” was “refusing to leave,” according to the audio compilation. Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, police spokesman, said Tuesday night that the 911 operator had not specified in her notes to the dispatching system how many men were at the store, which likely led the radio dispatcher to describe the men as a “group.”

About four minutes after that radio call, a man said over the radio that a “group of males” was “causing a disturbance” and called for backup and a supervisor. The final radio call was made at 5 p.m., with an officer reporting the arrests of the two men.

The police incident report, obtained Tuesday by the Inquirer and Daily News, said the two men — who have not been identified — cursed at the store manager and refused to leave even though officers asked “multiple times.” It also accused the men of insulting the police by saying, “Cops don’t know the laws,” and “Y’all make 45G a year,” remarks to which Police Commissioner Richard Ross alluded in his explanation of the events, released on video Saturday.

The report categorized the incident as “defiant trespass,” although the District Attorney’s Office ultimately declined to charge either man with a crime.

Taken together, the audio recordings and police report provide the most complete accounting yet of how officers were summoned to the Starbucks, communicated with dispatchers before arresting the two men, and justified taking them into custody.

Police officials did not offer additional comment in releasing the audio compilation. Ross said Saturday that the officers had acted appropriately, and Mayor Kenney defended the officers Monday.

The executive director of the Police Advisory Commission, a civilian oversight board, also said Monday that the officers had acted “in accordance with the law” and did not violate department policies, but noted that “we cannot discount the likelihood that the race of these men played an integral part in the precipitation and overall outcome of this incident.”

Protesters and civil rights groups have criticized the police response as being heavy-handed or even racially motivated, as video of the incident shared on social media showed the men reacting calmly while being confronted and taken into custody. Dozens of people gathered at the store in recent days to hold sit-ins and demonstrations over how black people are treated in Philadelphia, saying the men were targeted because of the color of their skin.

The Starbucks manager who called police has left the store pending a company review of what happened. CEO Kevin Johnson visited Philadelphia on Monday and apologized, and the company said Tuesday that it would close all of its U.S. stores one afternoon next month to conduct “racial-bias education” training.

A police spokesman, meanwhile, said Tuesday that the incident remained under review by Internal Affairs.