Mistaken identity leads to tense encounter
“It's not something you think about talking to your children [about]. Parents really need to talk to their young drivers about these situations.”
A case of mistaken identity had 17-year-old Ben Ferrell in handcuffs last Thursday evening.
The Hastings City Police responded to the report of a verbal dispute just after 8 p.m. Thursday Sept. 26, in the 500 block of East Green Street. The people at the scene said a 24-year-old man had threatened them, and told them he was going to go home, get a gun, and come back. They said the man drove a dark-colored Ford F-150.
Then one of the witnesses pointed to a dark-colored Ford F-150 driving by, and said he was 100-percent sure it was the suspect's truck.
But it wasn't.
It was a different truck driven by Ben Ferrell, a Hastings senior, who had just dropped off his friend after they had stopped to get slushies.
Ferrell noticed a police car when he dropped off his friend, and soon, a cruiser came up behind him. They signaled him to pull over and he did. Then two more police cars arrived.
The police drew their guns and yelled to him to get out of the truck, keeping his hands visible at all times.
They told him to turn, with his hands behind his head, so they could check to see that he didn't have a weapon.
The officers initiated what Hastings City Police Chief Jeff Pratt said is a “felony stop,” which is standard procedure for his officers when they have reason to believe a suspect they are stopping has a gun and might be dangerous.
In a stop like this, officers call in back-up cruisers to box in the vehicle. Then, with their guns drawn, one of the officers gives the suspect verbal commands.
“Our officers have to act on what they know at the time,” Pratt told The Banner Tuesday. “Our people did everything by the book.”
Pratt showed The Banner the video footage from the body cameras on two of the officers involved in the stop.
In the video, an officer told Ferrell to get out of the vehicle, show them that he didn't have any weapons in his waistband, then back up slowly with his hands up. Once he reached the officers, one of them handcuffed his hands behind his back and then patted him down.
The officers had their firearms out, but not pointed directly at Ferrell, Pratt said.
With all the lights from the police and their cars, Ferrell later said he didn't even notice that the police had their guns drawn.
After he was handcuffed, the yelling stopped and one of the officers began to question Ferrell about the incident they were investigating, asking if he knew any of the people involved.
Ferrell gave them permission to search the vehicle for weapons.
“I had no clue what was going on or anything,” Ferrell told The Banner. “I couldn't stop shaking. It was weird.”
Early on in the stop, the officers were notified of another dark-colored F-150, and one of the four officers left to check it out. That officer confirmed that was the truck they were looking for, not Ferrell's, and reported it to the officers questioning Ferrell.
“He was uncuffed within 90 seconds,” Pratt said.
Afterward, the officers explained to Ferrell what they had been investigating and why the situation had been severe enough to conduct a felony stop.
Ferrell went home and told his mother Melissa Gillons about it. She and her husband Ryan went to the police department the next day.
Pratt asked them for time to speak with the officers and review the footage, then met with Ferrell's parents on Monday. He and Deputy Chief Dale Boulter explained what had happened and why, showing them the footage from the officers' cameras.
Melissa Gillons said Pratt and Boulter were compassionate and understanding.
“Being a parent and a grandparent, I totally understand where the parents are coming from,” Pratt said. “I would have been down here first thing in the morning also.”
Gillons said she was disappointed that the situation happened the way it did and, although it was hard to watch the footage, she was proud of the way her son had conducted himself.
Pratt said Ferrell was 100 percent compliant with the officers.
“I'm thankful things went they way they did, and Ben wasn't hurt,” Gillons said. “Thankfully, he responded the way he did.”
What Gillons said she wants other people to understand about the incident is that parents should talk to their kids about what to do if they're in that kind of a situation.
“It's not something you think about talking to your children [about],” Gillons said. “Parents really need to talk to their young drivers about these situations.”
Pratt said the safest thing for people to do is always to comply with the police.
“There will always be time to talk about what happened afterwards,” Pratt said. “But, until that time arrives, just simply comply. That way, nobody ends up injured. Everybody is just safe that way.”
When police found the 24-year-old suspect they had been seeking, he denied being at the scene of the incident that night. He confirmed that he owns guns, but said they are kept in a safe.
Information about the incident, police said, has been forwarded to the prosecuting attorney.