Harrison County

Gulfport police chief responds to family, releases video of incident

The screenshot shows a still image from a video statement released by the Gulfport Police Department.
The screenshot shows a still image from a video statement released by the Gulfport Police Department.

Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania issued a statement Wednesday evening via Facebook video addressing a situation last weekend where a family said they were mistakenly pulled over and held at gunpoint.

The statement also includes body camera footage of the incident.

“We are providing video from that traffic stop so the public can form their own independent opinion on this matter,” he said.

Kelvin Fairley, his wife and four children were pulled over Sunday night after a 911 caller reported seeing burglars in a home owned by the Fairleys. Papania said the family had moved out of the home last October and returned to retrieve personal items and set off bug bombs. The caller reported seeing people with flash lights, because the power was off, and a person leaving the home with items in a dark SUV the caller did not recognize.

A patrol officer in the area saw the SUV and performed a traffic stop, and more officers came to the scene. They asked for everyone in the vehicle to roll down the windows and show their hands, Papania said, then asked them to exit the vehicle one by one, starting with the driver.

“The officers acted reasonable with their tactics and adjusted in accordance to their observations as it developed,” Papania said. “Once they were able to see children in the vehicle, all weapons were holstered and the children were directed to exit the vehicle.”

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Fairley told the Sun Herald earlier this week that officers wouldn’t explain what was going on.

“They wouldn’t tell me what it was about and they held guns on us, even on the kids. And they told us to shut the f--- up. Why would you hold a gun on kids, drag them out of a car and talk to them like that?”

Papania said officers followed protocol and never used an expletive when addressing the family.

“Fairley has repeatedly stated that we was told to ‘shut the f---- up’ by our police officers. This never happened. He was escorted to a police car and asked to sit in it, which he complied. He was not thrown.”

Papania also said the supervising officer apologized to Fairley at the scene.

Fairley also told the Sun Herald he believes he was racially profiled. Papania disputed that.

“He indicated that he believes all the actions of the police were motivated because he was black. I listened to the police dispatcher speak to the eyewitness. When asked for a description, they could not determine the race of the individual. That aside, there was nothing in my review of this matter that indicated racially biased actions of misconduct.”

The chief also admitted the situation was mishandled when the Fairleys went to the department later that night to complain about the incident. The Fairleys’ sister videotaped the exchange and posted it on social media.

“We failed to deescalate the situation to provide for an opportunity of discussion. It appears that our sergeant became defensive and argumentative. Realizing that Fairley and his family had been through a traumatic event, we should have exercised better demeanor in the police lobby. While even the best people at deescalating situations don’t always succeed, we should always try. I am not satisfied with our performance at the station that night.”

Papania criticized both Fairley and the media, saying “our modern media strives for speed and not facts.”

“I will say the narrative put forth by Fairley includes misleading, inflammatory and false statements that disallows a third-party to have an accurate account of what occurred. This false narrative compounded with a poorly handled situation at the police station is what I believe has driven this false story.”

Watch the statement below: