More than two weeks after Fuquay-Varina police officers handcuffed a Black 14-year-old teen in his family’s yard, family members renewed calls for police reform at Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting.
In response, commissioners unanimously approved a motion to use an existing public safety committee to engage with the public and make recommendations on how to improve community-police relations.
While some advocates say that’s a good first step, they add they won’t be satisfied until they see substantial police reform. They called for a cultural assessment of the department, to be released to the public, and the establishment of a board to ensure oversight of law enforcement.
“We will not be placated with nice words and conversation,” said Dawn Blagrove, the executive director of Emancipate NC. “We demand action and substantive change.”
Ty Ziglar, the mother of the boy who was mistakenly detained, said the incident will have long-lasting effects on her family.
“All I can say is this department failed our family,” Ziglar told the board. “Not only did you lose our trust, but you also lost the trust of many others in this community.”
What happened at teen’s home
Before the meeting, Ziglar told The News & Observer what happened at their Fuquay-Varina home on Jan. 30. Fuquay-Varina police also provided a Facebook statement on Feb. 5 about the incident.
Their descriptions paint a picture of a miscommunication that turned traumatic for Malcolm Ziglar, the 14-year-old caught in the middle. Malcolm was never arrested, but his family and advocates say race played a troubling role in how he was treated.
“This experience has been devastating for our family,” Ty Ziglar said at the meeting. “And in good conscience, I still could not allow a child’s blood to be on my hand out of fear of not speaking up.”
Ty Ziglar said her son was trying to sell a dirt bike when two officers from the Fuquay-Varina Police Department arrived at their yard. One of Malcolm’s friends was with him.
He had bought the bike from Facebook Marketplace, fixed it up with new parts, and intended to resell it for a profit. According to Fuquay-Varina police, the bike had been reported stolen two weeks before.
But Malcolm’s family said the teen didn’t know he had bought a stolen bike. So when the bike’s original owners, posing as prospective buyers, arrived at his home, he had no idea they would notify the police and report him as the thief.
“The department reviewed this information and determined that the owner had reported a stolen dirt bike through a National Information Crime Center database query,” the Police Department said in a statement. The Police Department followed protocol by sending two officers to investigate “a felony possession of stolen property case in progress.”
Police, who said the reporting owner described Malcolm as 18 or 19 years old, later confirmed the family was unaware the bike was stolen.
That afternoon, however, officers detained and searched Malcolm, placing him into the back of a police vehicle despite his protests. He repeatedly said he was a minor and asked to go inside to his father and retrieve the bill of sale, but officers ignored these requests, Malcolm’s mother said. A third officer arrived on the scene, and the officers ended the investigation and released Malcolm.
“It was 34 minutes, but this impact is for a lifetime,” Ty Ziglar said.
She said she doesn’t understand why it took three officers to respond to a situation involving two minors. At one point, four officers were present, though the fourth never left his vehicle, a spokesperson for the department said.
“How can I convince them to trust law enforcement?” Ty Ziglar asked. She added her daughter was terrified Malcolm would be taken to jail. Ty Ziglar told The N&O she fears officers may have shot her son if he had run away from the situation.
The family also alleges that Malcolm’s friend, who is white, received significantly different treatment from officers, and was released when he said he wasn’t involved with the sale. Ty Ziglar, who says she reviewed the police officer’s body camera footage, said one officer can be heard telling another that her son was “running his mouth.”
The Police Department did not respond to The N&O’s additional questions about the treatment of the two teens.
In the department’s statement on Facebook, it said an internal investigation of the incident found “no law or policy violations by Fuquay-Varina Police Department employees.”
“While we cannot provide detail on the internal investigation per NC Personnel Privacy laws or details about the juveniles involved for their privacy per NC law, we can confirm that we have taken the concerns of the parties involved seriously,” the department said.
Earlier this month, the department began the process of petitioning Wake County Superior Court to release the body camera footage, as required by state law. A hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 24.
In Durham, a Black parent raised similar concerns last year after her 15-year-old son was handcuffed by police in a case of mistaken identity.
In that case, officers were responding to a report of an armed man at an apartment complex when they approached a group of children and mistook the teen for the reported suspect. Two younger children, ages 8 and 11 at the time, watched the incident. The city released body camera footage of the August incident in November, and a police officer was suspended one day without pay, The N&O reported.
‘Dereliction of duty’
Tuesday, Blagrove spoke to Fuquay-Varina commissioners to support the Ziglar family. She said the situation represented a “dereliction of duty, and a failure” on the part of the police department.
“It is your job to bring equity to the city of Fuquay-Varina,” she told the commissioners.
Commissioner Bill Harris made the motion to develop a “police citizen advisory engagement committee.”
“My heart goes out to Malcolm and the Ziglar family for the trauma he experienced on that day,” he said.
After the meeting, Ziglar issued a statement, saying she is grateful that Harris recognized “that Black citizens are not always treated equal.”
“I am grateful for his call for the Public Safety Committee to begin meeting with individuals within the community in order to hear concerns and make recommendations to the town board,” she added.
But she said the journey was “not over by far.”
“We will continue showing up, holding leaders accountable, and demanding change. We will no longer accept talk without action,” she said. “Tonight, was a step but there is still more work to be done.”