An allegation of children held at gunpoint by St. Louis police, which swept social media and led to a protest this week, was proven false by video from a patrol vehicle's dashboard camera, Police Chief Sam Dotson said Wednesday.
Dotson revealed the video at a press conference in answer to allegations made on social media, and at a protest outside Police Headquarters, that the officers were improperly aggressive, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
"This is a completely different interaction than what was described in the paper," Dotson said. "There was no hostility on the part of the officers or the occupants inside the car.
"It was very conversational and very professional."
The video, which shows only part of the scene, appears to depict a routine traffic stop of a car about 5 p.m. Sunday on the parking lot of the Family Dollar store near Cherokee Street and Jefferson Avenue, with cordial conversation and no guns drawn. There were two adults and four children in the vehicle, and no hostility by either side, Dotson said.
Police said the car was stopped because a license check showed the plate did not match the vehicle. The people were sent on their way with no arrest and no tickets.
The controversy may have begun with a Facebook posting at 11:16 p.m. Sunday from a woman named Melissa Bennett who wrote:
"Tonight, the police pulled guns while my 2 year old nephew and 5 month old neice where in the car. The 2 year old reached for his Mother(my neice). The police yelled at him, told him to get back, and told him not to move. The guns were pulled out the entire time My family was harassed and followed..... Modern day terrorism. One of the passengers looked at the police. Soon they were pulled over. They were getting out of church. When we met soon after, the young adults were afraid to drive home.... Terrified. Tonight it hit my family. Tonight I will speak out. Tonight....Lord, tonight. I will not rest. I will keep going... Tonight..."
The story spread on Facebook and Twitter.
About 75 people demonstrated outside Police Headquarters on Monday night, blocking Olive Boulevard for about 20 minutes. Some chanted, "Black babies matter!" and placed baby dolls in the street.
Dotson said Wednesday, "This shows the vulnerability society has to social media, when an individual who may or may not be involved in an encounter casts a narrative that can't be vetted and there's no accountability. This story is out there and it's been retweeted thousands of times, when factually we investigate it, there is no substance to the allegations at all.
"The people who were actually involved know the truth," he said. "Nobody made a complaint, because there was nothing to complain about."