Harrison County

‘Our story has not changed. Our story is the truth,’ couple says after seeing police video

Kelvin Fairley and Natasha Krikorian are standing by their story that Gulfport police officers held guns on them and their children because of racial profiling, despite Chief Leonard Papania’s adamant denials and police videotapes of the encounter.

“We definitely are waiting to receive all of the tapes because there’s definitely some missing footage,” Fairley told the Sun Herald in an interview Thursday. “. . . The angles and clips that were chosen to show to everyone seem to be just the right ones to make their side look better than ours.

“Our story has not changed. Our story is the truth, and we will get our truth out there.”

The couple’s attorney, Carlos Moore of Grenada, said he is working to secure police video and audio from the stop Sunday night. Police pulled over the couple after a reported home burglary, only to eventually learn that the house belonged to the family.

Papania did not return a telephone call Thursday seeking comment on the couple’s claims. However, he said in a public Facebook video Wednesday night that he had reviewed all information available and is confident his officers followed the tactical approach needed.

“Your main thing is to get out of there alive,” Fairley said. “That’s all I wanted to do that night, was to get out of there alive and survive. I just wanted to get my family out of there.”

When the Fairleys went to the police department later that night to complain, an officer grew defensive and dismissed their questions.

The story was reported nationwide after the couple posted on Facebook about how they had been treated.

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Fairley said he was wrong when he said earlier in the week that the officers at the scene did not apologize for what happened. One of the officers did say he was sorry for the mix-up.

“I guess from the state I was in, I didn’t realize it,” Fairley said. “I apologize for saying that he didn’t apologize. That was my bad.”

Police videotapes of the stop Sunday night do not show police cussing Fairley, as he claims, but he believes videos have been edited and police did not release all their tapes.

The three videos that were released show at least one officer holding a gun on Fairley’s three children and nephew, ages 9 to 16.

“I know all cops aren’t bad, just like I know everybody isn’t racist, regardless of what they look like and regardless of where they live,” Fairley said, “but I do believe with everything in my heart that if I was white, this situation wouldn’t have been handled that way.”

The beginning

Police and Fairley agree how the incident initially unfolded. Fairley was in his home in the Wingate subdivision setting off bug bombs with his oldest son and nephew. Fairley was wearing a head lamp because the power had been turned off.

A neighbor called police to report a possible burglary, describing the scene in the house. As patrol officers rushed to the subdivision, the neighbor told the police dispatcher the suspects had left the house in a dark-colored SUV.

Less than two minutes later, a police officer pulled over the SUV, which belonged to Fairley’s mother and was often in the neighborhood off Dedeaux Road.

The police video, released Wednesday night on the department’s Facebook page, shows Fairley complying with an officer’s requests to get out of the car, hold up his shirt, then put his hands on his head.

A number of officers are on the scene, their guns pointed toward the SUV. Fairley is placed in handcuffs in the back of the patrol car.

Police stop familiar

He said the confrontation should have ended there, because he had been compliant, told officers his wife and children were in the car and offered to show his identification, which listed the address of the house in question.

Instead, police repeated the same procedure with Krikorian, then at least one officer pointed the gun into the back seat. The tinted windows at this point had been rolled down at the officers’ request and at least one officer had noted children were in back.

None of the videos show the children after they are removed from the vehicle. Fairley said police patted down the two 12-year-old boys and questioned the 16-year-old.

Fairley and Krikorian now live in California, where she is from. His children are enrolled in Harrison County schools and are staying with their grandparents and mother. The couple had just arrived Sunday in Gulfport, where Fairley grew up, and were looking forward to a visit.

Instead, the couple said, nobody can sleep and the children have been crying off and on since the police stop.

Fairley said he knew to be compliant because he had been held at gunpoint by police before. When he was 16, he said, he and some friends were playing in Westside community park when police told them to lay on the ground and pointed guns at them because they matched the description of suspects in a drive-by shooting.

“You know what the first thing I said to my kids was when we got back in the car after that whole situation?” he asked. “ ‘Now you guys see firsthand what can happen with police officers and how aggressive they’re going to be with you. But this is how you handle it. You comply with everything they tell you. You act in a way that’s not threatening to them. You move slowly. You keep your hands where they can see them.’ ”

“ . . . It’s just sad that after that, instead of me consoling my kids, I have to take that as a teaching moment to say, ‘This is what can happen.’

“White people in this country don’t have to do that with their kids. I’m not saying that police never hold white people at gunpoint. I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is, as a whole, it’s not as much of an issue.

“ I know white people get killed by the police also. But you’re not seeing white people get killed by the police when they’re unarmed and not doing threatening things to the police.”

What would you do?

Fairley and Krikorian have received plenty of support on social media, but they’ve seen some criticism too. It bothers Fairley that some commenters have said he didn’t seem that upset because the police video shows him laughing with the officers once his handcuffs are off.

“Well, of course I was,” he said. “What would you have done if somebody had just had you at gunpoint and handcuffed you and just released you? What was I supposed to do? Get angry and hostile with them ...

“We’ve seen so many videos around the country of people getting shot for doing less. I wasn’t about to put myself or my family in that situation.”

“ . . . I just wanted to get my family out of there, so at that point they could have done anything they wanted to and I would have laughed at their jokes and shook their hand and winked and smiled, or whatever they needed me to in order to get out of there.”

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99