An expert on police ethics said Gulfport officers mishandled an unfounded burglary complaint from start to finish, leading to nationwide publicity over claims they drew guns on a family after pulling them over and responded inappropriately in a videotaped meeting with the family later that night.
Pulling over Kelvin Fairley, who had left home with his wife and four children Sunday night, should have been handled differently, Michael W. Quinn said. Quinn is a police ethics trainer, consultant, author, lecturer and expert witness in cases of officers accused of criminal acts. Coincidentally, he taught an ethics class to Gulfport police supervisors a few years ago.
Fairley and his wife said they also were disturbed that several officers told them to “shut the f--- up.”
“In a situation like this, the rush to put him and his wife in handcuffs and to use the language they used is not a reasonable expectation of any experienced officer,” Quinn said.
“Seeing a family in a car should have been a clue.”
Officers surrounded them after one of their neighbors reported a possible break-in and described the getaway vehicle. Police later learned Fairley lives at the house on Woodforest Drive and had just left home.
Police pulled over the family in the parking lot of a closed business near Hancock Bank on Dedeaux Road. The caller had described a dark-colored SUV that drove away. It was the vehicle Fairley was driving when his family left their house.
Quinn also expressed concern over how a police supervisor responded when Fairley and his wife, Natashia Krikorian, went to the police department to complain about what happened and to request copies of video footage from body cameras and patrol cars.
Quinn viewed a video obtained by the Sun Herald on the supervisor’s response to the couple, which a relative videotaped.
“The supervisor’s response was terrible,” Quinn said.
“Just awful. All he had to do was express his concern and say, ‘You are right and I’m sorry it happened.’”
The couple told the supervisor what happened and made it clear the family had been terrified.
“Obviously, you don’t understand our business, OK?” said the officer, who identified himself as Sgt. Wilder.
When Fairley said he thought the department’s business was to protect people, Wilder responded, “Oh, Jesus, really?”
Quinn said the supervisor responded in an unreasonable and unprofessional manner.
“It looks like they need a little help with communication skills,” he said.
Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania has declined to speak to the media, but has said through a spokesman that allegations of officer misconduct are being investigated. Papania posted a 27-minute statement in a video posted on Facebook early Wednesday night.
Fairley on Monday told the Sun Herald he went to the police department wanting to be heard and to get an apology. He has since met with an attorney.
Fairley, who is black, said he believes he was racially profiled.
Better ways to respond
Quinn said the situation could have been resolved quickly had the officers taken a more reasonable approach.
“Asking for ID would have cleared up any questions,” Quinn said.
A burglary is a property crime, not a crime of violence. The caller’s report of a possible burglary reportedly did not indicate the suspect was armed.
Quinn said there are two better ways police could have responded.
They could have secured Fairley in a patrol car and asked for his license.
“A softer response would have been to ask ‘Where are you going?’ and ‘Where have you been?’ and ask for his driver’s license,” Quinn said.
“Unfortunately, we’re hearing too many complaints against police these days.”
Quinn recently finished teaching a four-year ethics training program for the New Orleans Police Department. The training was mandated by the U.S. Justice Department in a consent decree. A judge ordered the training after a police coverup in which five officers were involved in fatal shootings of two men and the wounding of four others on the Danzinger Bridge shortly after Katrina.
Quinn created the training program, called EPIC — Ethical Policing Is Courageous.
Quinn wrote and published “Walking With the Devil: The Police Code of Silence,” in 2005. The book’s subtitle is “What bad cops don’t want you to know and good cops won’t tell you.” His third edition, “The Promise of Peer Intervention,” was published in 2016.
Staff Writer Anita Lee contributed to this report.