Stryker almost became the next battleground in the ongoing national tensions between police officers and the Black community, but cooler heads prevailed in an incident that the town’s police chief said shows the importance of police officer mental wellness.
The incident involved a white police officer with the Stryker Police Department, Keith Hough — who has since resigned — drawing his gun on a black truck driver, Kenya Sayles, during a traffic stop.
The incident occurred on Saturday, June 20, around 2:33 p.m., when Sayles failed to come to a complete stop at a stop sign, according to Stryker Police Chief Steve Schlosser.
Video taken by Sayles during the incident and posted online shows him reaching his arms out of the window of the cab of the tractor trailer as Hough has his weapon drawn and pointed at Sayles, ordering him to exit the vehicle.
“Put your gun away, officer, I’m not armed,” Sayles can be heard telling the officer. “I’ve got five kids, I’m not dying today ... Put your gun away, I’m not armed.”
This exchange happened a few times before Hough holstered his weapon. They had a seemingly amicable discussion afterward, with Sayles even telling him to “do your job” as he pats him down.
“How do I know you’re not going to kill me?” Hough asks on the video, later telling a visibly shaking Sayles: “I’m not going to harm you, man.”
They even share a hug.
“I understand your job, training just needs to be something else,” Sayles said in the video. “I really appreciate you putting your gun away ... That showed professionalism, I really thank you for that.”
Schlosser, in an interview with The Bryan Times, said Sayles admitted to rolling through the stop sign and didn’t see Hough trying to pull him over for about half a mile due to the 53-foot trailer behind him, and sound from his radio.
“It wasn’t until he saw oncoming traffic starting to pull over, then the red flags go up,” he said. “Then he looked into the side-view mirror and saw Keith, officer Hough ... was behind him trying to initiate the traffic stop. He immediately pulled over.”
Schlosser said Sayles wasn’t cited for the rolling stop. The video shows Hough giving him a warning.
The incident came as protests are taking place around the world — sometimes turning violent — over the death of George Floyd, who died when a white officer knelt on his neck for around eight minutes.
The officer involved in Floyd’s death has been charged with murder with other officers at the scene also being charged in the death.
While Schlosser said this incident wasn’t racial motivated, he said there are problems that need to be worked out nationally.
“We won’t deny that there are issues, there are absolute issues with police officers using unjust use of force, there is no doubt in my mind,” he said, later adding: “Kenya Sayles went through that very issue. That was what was going through his mind at the initial onset of this stop.”
Schlosser, who has spoken to Sayles several times since the incident, said Sayles eventually got the feeling Hough was afraid and didn’t know what he was doing.
“It was a feeling he needed to talk this officer down,” Schlosser said. “He was able to look into Officer Hough’s eyes and he said he could see the change, once Officer Hough realized he needed to put his gun away and that Kenya wasn’t a threat.”
He said they were both feeling afraid.
The whole incident wasn’t driven by race, but rather by fear, Schlosser said. Hough didn’t even know Sayles’ race at the time he drew his weapon.
“After talking to Keith on a very intimate level, I believe that he was genuinely afraid for his life at that particular moment; That’s why he drew his duty weapon,” Schlosser said. “That doesn’t make it right ... He violated our escalation of force policies.”
Hough had been with the department for around two years and Schlosser was proud of his overall performance, he said, even having to properly go through the use of force in the past.
Hough also offered his resignation after that day, something he had been planning to do since before the start of his shift.
“He had his letter of resignation ready to go, Saturday was going to be his last shift with us,” Schlosser said. “He came to the determination that even though his heart was in it, his mind was not ... It wasn’t a training issue. It certainly wasn’t a racial issue. This is a mental wellness issue.”
Schlosser elaborated: “(Hough) admitted he was manipulated by the mainstream news, the constant barrage of villainizing police by the mainstream media,” Schlosser said. “The villainization of police through Facebook, YouTube got to him, has been getting to him, over the course of the last six to eight months.”
Hough has his heart in the right place, Schlosser said, and he is serving as a probation officer in Paulding County.
Schlosser also empathized with Sayles, saying he would have had the same reaction in his position.
The two have met several times about the overall issue and this specific incident.
“The more they got into it, the more Kenya realized this young officer is basically crying out for help, honestly that is the feeling,” Schlosser said. “Kenya knew immediately once Keith put his gun away that this was not a police person against the Black community issue... This was an officer mental wellness issue.”