Joseph Griffin set off for a jog Aug. 27 in his predominantly white neighborhood in Deltona. It was the first time he could get back into his workout routine since his daughter was born, just two days earlier.
“It was my first time out of the house,” Griffin said. “I went out on a run, to try and get that baby weight off.”
Minutes later, Griffin was in handcuffs on the sidewalk, facing nine patrol cars full of sheriff’s deputies, the newsreels playing in his head reminding him of what can go wrong when black men interact with law enforcement.
He was stopped by a patrol car while jogging near Normandy Boulevard, a large thoroughfare only blocks from his home. The deputy who stopped him told Griffin he fit the description of someone who was seen stealing a leaf blower in the backyard of a nearby house.
Immediately upon being detained, Griffin turned on Facebook Live on his cellphone, a video-sharing app on Facebook that streams live video.
“It made me feel safer that my friends and family were watching the event,” Griffin told The Beacon.
A former staff sergeant in the Army and currently an assistant manager in a hospital ICU, as well as the owner of a credit-repair business, Griffin was handcuffed while Volusia Sheriff’s Office deputies attempted to confirm his identity.
The deputies kept the Facebook video going, at Griffin’s request, and apologized for the inconvenience during the 14-minute encounter.
After watching part of Griffin’s Facebook video, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Andrew Gant said it appeared the deputies did the best they could under difficult circumstances.
“I think it’s fair to say those deputies went out of their way to be respectful, thorough and fair, and Mr. Griffin returned the favor, even though he clearly had good reason to be frustrated by the circumstances,” Gant said.
But the courtesy of the deputies couldn’t mitigate all the effects on Griffin, and his perception that if he was white, this wouldn’t have happened.
“There were nine patrol cars that showed up, and I was handcuffed for everyone to see,” Griffin told The Beacon.
“You literally fit the description,” one deputy tells him.
“Black with a beard?” Griffin asked.
According to the affidavit charging the man who was later arrested in the tool theft, officers had responded to a burglary call after a resident alerted his neighbor about a suspicious man entering the neighbor’s shed and walking away with a combination weed trimmer and leaf blower.
The neighbor located the suspect walking down the street, and described him as a black male, wearing a white tank top, flip-flops and a black hat. Griffin was wearing a white tank top, running shoes, and no hat.
Air One and K9 units were deployed to search for the suspect; in the meantime, officers interviewed the resident and obtained security-camera footage showing the suspect walking down the street and, shortly after, walking back up the street carrying the leaf blower, and ultimately entering a nearby home.
The suspect was described in the affidavit as wearing a white-colored tank top, black baseball cap, dark-colored shorts, and black flip-flops.
Griffin was wearing a white tank top and black Army shorts, and had on black running sneakers.
Sheriff’s spokesman Gant said imperfect descriptions aren’t uncommon.
“Unfortunately, initial suspect descriptions are not usually comprehensive, and almost never completely accurate, which can result in encounters like this one,” he said.
“Sounding like wrong place, wrong time, man,” one deputy tells Griffin, in the Facebook video. “Good news is [the handcuffs] come off easy as they come on.”
“Seven cop cars, though; hey, everything going on, it’s just a little bit scary. Y’all pulling me over, just jogging down the street,” Griffin replied.
“We don’t know that for sure — that’s what I am trying to say, see it through our eyes,” the deputy tells him. “We appreciate you being very cooperative.”
“I am not trying to get shot over this,” Griffin said.
For 14 minutes, Griffin imagined what could happen.
“I was scared, my future was in the hands of a witness, and scientifically it’s been proven witnesses can be inaccurate. My future and career could have been ruined. I had my newborn baby born just a day or two before,” Griffin told The Beacon. “Everything was running through my head. I’m one of the only black people in my neighborhood, so I was thinking, someone could have called on me for looking suspicious; I didn’t know. With everything in the news lately, it’s scary.”
While they held Griffin handcuffed on the sidewalk, the officers chafed at the idea his detention was racially motivated.
“If I was white, I wouldn’t have fit the description,” Griffin told the deputies.
“If that guy was white, white tank top, black shorts, yes you would. Same thing — it wouldn’t have changed the story,” the officers told him. “Avoid that race card, because it’s not here, I promise you that.”
“They tried hard to say it wasn’t about my color, but I had a white friend with the same situation, and he wasn’t handcuffed,” Griffin told The Beacon. “The nature of the crime, it felt like the response was excessive. Air One was out there. I would understand if it was a murder, or an assault, but nine cop cars and a helicopter for a stolen leaf blower?”
Griffin noted that while he was being held, the deputies observed another man wearing clothing similar to the description provided by the homeowner.
“While we were there, someone else matched the description. They didn’t go after that person,” he said.
“That guy fits the description, too, but he looks like he is home, just chilling,” the deputy says on the video.
Griffin worried about the effect on his neighbors.
“They put me in handcuffs. They could have just talked to me, could have put me in the car, to protect my dignity. Perception is reality, and I don’t know that my neighbors didn’t pass by, and don’t know the story, and then think I am up to no good,” Griffin said.
“I don’t want this to be a bashing of the Sheriff’s Office, I want it to be an enlightening thing. Anybody can be profiled,” Griffin said. “The cop wasn’t too bad; they did some things right.”
Griffin was grateful everyone remained calm.
“On the law-enforcement-compliance side, it’s a good example of how to handle yourself. If I wasn’t calm and respectful, it could have turned into something different,” Griffin said. “There are multiple instances of the same thing that ends up with someone going to jail, getting a felony for assault, because they fight back.”
“On the civilian side, I would really like the cops to kind of, put yourself in other people's shoes. The people handcuffed, they do have a family, they are somebody; respect their dignity, respect their culture, respect their safety — put on a mask,” he said.
The deputy who stood next to Griffin during the detainment, holding Griffin’s arm, was maskless.
“I want cops to be able to read this and go, ‘Ohhhh,’” Griffin said.
The witness was driven past Griffin, still standing on the side of a busy road in handcuffs, and told officers Griffin did not match the description. He was released, and the police thanked him for his cooperation.
“I just want to say thank you, because not everyone is that understanding and respectful,” a deputy tells him.
The suspect — who was arrested about two hours after the initial report — was wearing a white T-shirt, and long gray shorts. He is noticeably heavier and shorter than Griffin, is bald, and is 10 years older.