A nine-month pregnant woman and her 8-year-old son were stopped by police in Sacramento, California, and held at gunpoint in what the department called “a case of mistaken identity.”
Shanice Stewart was driving her 8-year-old son to football practice Tuesday when officers initiated what they called a “high-risk” traffic stop.
“We could have been shot,” Stewart told CNN.
The Sacramento Police Department said in a statement to CNN that they are looking for a juvenile suspect who is “wanted for two felony warrants, including a warrant for possession of a firearm.”
Stewart said he immediately pulled his purple car to the side of the northern California freeway when the lights of the patrol car behind him went on, expecting the officer to drive by. However, he said three other law enforcement vehicles also stopped, stopping all traffic on the freeway.
While following the officers’ instructions, throwing her car keys out the window, and slowly getting out of the car, she ordered her son, Brandon, to stay in the car wearing his seat belt.
“I got out of the car with my hands up and turned my back on the officers,” Stewart said. When he turned around, he said the officers realized he was not the man they were looking for and waved him over to them.
“As the officers conducted the stop and the windows were rolled down, they realized that the youth in the vehicle was not the wanted suspect, and at that point, the high-risk stop ended,” the police statement said.
His son quickly got out of the family car. “She was crying and begging the police, ‘Please don’t take my mom,'” she said.
Stewart asked her son to stay, but the officer said it was OK and asked her to go too. As he stood with his son on the freeway, a responding officer explained the heavy police presence, which included assault weapons and a helicopter, saying they were looking for a suspect in two years leading officers on a chase.
“They said he fit the description because of the texture of his hair and white shirt,” Stewart said, adding that police explained Brandon was identified by a helicopter team flying over the family’s apartment. That explanation “didn’t sit well with me,” Stewart said.
“He has a baby face. He is small,” he said. “He weighs 56 pounds and is 3-foot-10.” Even in his football uniform, Stewart said his son was small.
Stewart said a member of the department spoke to him the day after the incident to explain that the person they were looking for was a juvenile.
The mother and son stood sobbing on the side of the freeway in disbelief, Stewart said, as her son turned to her to understand. “They think I’m a suspect?” he said he asked. Now he says he is afraid to travel on the freeway at all. “Whenever he sees an officer, highway patrol, or sheriff, he stops. I think it will stay with him,” he said.
Brandon still doesn’t feel comfortable talking about the incident, so Stewart finds a therapist for his son. She intends to file a complaint against the police department and expects them to pay for her son’s counseling.
“If it wasn’t for them, he wouldn’t need it,” he said.