Family seeking answers after police held unarmed teen at gunpoint

"I was so terrified, I couldn't move my body," the teen said.

ByMeredith Deliso ABC logo
Thursday, August 4, 2022
Rykeem Johnson, 16, and his brother Relius Johnson, speak with WFAA after Rykeem was mistaken for an armed suspect at his apartment complex in Arlington, Texas.

A 16-year-old boy is speaking out after he was held at gunpoint and detained by police in what authorities said appears to have been a misunderstanding.

The incident occurred Monday afternoon at an apartment complex in Arlington, Texas, located between Dallas and Fort Worth.

Arlington police say they responded to a report of an armed man standing outside the door of one of the apartments.

A 911 caller told the dispatcher that he looked through his door's peephole and saw a "male at his door wearing a hoodie and holding a firearm that was partially covered by a towel," the Arlington Police Department said in a statement.

"The 911 caller advised that he'd been receiving threats from a person over social media, and the 911 caller believed the person at his door with a firearm was the same person who was making the threat," the department said.

Apartment complex resident Rykeem Johnson, 16, says he was returning home from the pool that afternoon and was on the third floor of the building when two officers responded to the call. He matched the description of the suspect, wearing a hoodie and holding a towel, police said.

"They told me to put some weapon down. I didn't know what they were talking about at first," Johnson told ABC Dallas affiliate WFAA.

The teen said he froze, as officers pointed their firearms up at him from their position on the ground.

"I was very terrified. I was so terrified, I couldn't move my body," he told the station.

When the teen didn't respond to verbal commands to drop the towel and show his hands, the officers called for backup and the police department's tactical unit responded to the scene, police said.

"He goes gets his rifle and he's pointing it directly at me, I get more scared," Johnson recounted to WFAA. "My body starts to shake, I can't move. My body feels stiff. In my mind, I was like, what should I do?"

The SWAT team was ultimately able to get the teen to show his hands and come down the stairs, and officers detained him, handcuffing him and placing him in a patrol car, police said.

Officers determined the teen was unarmed and was not the person making social media threats to the 911 caller and he was not arrested, police said.

"The only thing they said to me was 'sorry for the misunderstanding. We apologize.' That wasn't enough for me," Johnson told WFAA. "They had me at gunpoint, scared for my life."

The teen was released to his older brother and guardian, Relius Johnson, who had rushed home from work after he received a call from an officer advising residents to shelter in place.

Relius Johnson told ABC News he didn't realize at first that his brother was the one being detained by police. He said he spoke to his brother after getting the shelter-in-place call, and that he sounded "panicked." When he got ahold of him again on the phone, his brother "started screaming, 'Save me, they're trying to shoot me,'" Relius Johnson said.

Relius Johnson said he told several officers at the scene that they had the wrong person. Eventually he was able to get a detective to connect with the SWAT commander, he said.

"That's when he got on my phone with my little brother and got him to come down the stairs," he said.

The incident lasted nearly three hours, police said.

Relius Johnson believes the situation could have been over a lot sooner if they had listened to him and his brother, whom he said officers kept calling by a different name.

"He was trying to tell them, try to talk to them," Relius Johnson said. "If they would have listened from the very beginning, that would have been a whole different situation, as well as if they would have listened to me, for about 30, 40 minutes, when I'm trying to tell them that's my little brother."

"If I wouldn't have gotten that call, or if I wouldn't have been there, I think it would have been a totally different outcome," he said. "I would be burying my brother instead of him being here."

Arlington Police Department spokesperson Tim Ciesco told ABC News police are investigating whether the 911 caller mistook the teen for the person threatening him online.

"We don't have any evidence to show that anybody that was trying to harm him was actually there," Ciesco said.

Throughout the response, police also determined there were "consistency issues" with the original 911 caller and "slowed down its actions so that we could be sure that we were proceeding appropriately given the circumstances," the department said. Ciesco could not elaborate on the consistency concerns due to the ongoing investigation.

Members of the police department's command staff have been in direct contact with the family following the incident, Ciesco said.

Relius Johnson said he reached out to the chief and deputy chief to understand "how did this get to where it did." They arranged a call on Wednesday and a sit-down meeting next week during which he hopes to get some questions about the incident answered, including why his brother was considered a suspect.