Family claims racial profiling in shooting

December 31, 2008 3:29:58 PM PST
There are allegations of racial profiling against the Bellaire Police Department. The family of a 23-year-old African American man claims he was shot because of the color of his skin and that he did nothing wrong. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

He was shot in front of the family's home early Wednesday morning. And by the afternoon, his father, a retired Major League Baseball player, talked about the shooting.

It was just before 2am when Anthony Cooper and his cousin, Robert Tolan, were returning to a Bellaire home after a late night at work. Suddenly, Cooper said a car sped in the front yard. A man jumped out and shined a bright light at them.

"Basically, just jumped out of the car with a gun and was saying, 'Stop, stop, stop' and we were like, 'Why, why stop? Who are you'," said Cooper.

Cooper says the man ordered them to the ground and accused them of driving a stolen vehicle.

"We didn't know he was a police officer," said Cooper.

Cooper then says Tolan's parents were awakened by the confrontation in the front yard. He says Tolan's mother came out and tried to explain to the officer that the vehicle belonged to them.

That's when Cooper says the officer pushed the woman against the house. Police say Tolan got up to challenge the officer.

"From what I know, he had gotten up off the ground, where officers had had him on the ground and he had gotten up and that's when he was shot," said Byron Holloway of the Bellaire Police Department.

Police say the officer fired at least two, possibly three rounds. Tolan was rushed to Ben Taub hospital for a wound to his upper torso.

Tolan is a professional baseball player. He's currently playing in the minor leagues. He graduated from Bellaire High School and his father, Bobby Tolan, was well-known for his Major League Baseball career with the Cincinnati Reds in the early 1970s.

Tolan's family has called this a case of racial profiling in a predominantly white neighborhood.

"The Bellaire Police Deaprtment knows what they did," said Bobby Tolan. "They know what they did and from that point, I'm going to let my attorneys take over."

Police tell us that Tolan was not armed and the SUV in the middle of all this was not stolen. Sgt. Cotton is on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation by both the Bellaire Police Department and the Harris County District Attorney's office. Ultimately a grand jury will decide if criminal charges are filed in this case.

A state law prohibiting racial profiling went into effect in September 2001. It defines racial profiling as "a law enforcement-initiated action based on the individual's race, ethnicity, or national origin rather than on the individual's behavior or on information identifying the individual as having engaged in criminal activity."

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