Evanston Police clear officer of racial profiling in Greenwell incident

Photo illustration by Tanner Maxwell

Susan Du, City Editor

The Evanston Police officer who sparked a citywide controversy after briefly handcuffing the 13-year-old son of a Northwestern professor has been cleared of racial profiling after an internal investigation.

During a burglary investigation in August, EPD officer Mark Buell briefly handcuffed Diwani Greenwell, the 13-year-old son of Medill Prof. Ava Greenwell. EPD officials said Diwani matched the description of a burglary suspect detailed as a “black male wearing blue cargo shorts.”

The Greenwell family claims the detainment hinged on a vague and widely applicable racial description and that EPD showed an excessive amount of force by using handcuffs and surrounding Diwani Greenwell with officers in front of his own home.

An EPD report to be presented to Evanston aldermen tonight classifies Greenwell’s allegation of racial profiling as “unfounded.” The report points out that Diwani was pursued because he matched the description and appeared to elude other officers as they approached him. The internal investigation included interviews with the Greenwell family, police officers involved in the original burglary case and civilian witnesses, as well as audio and video surveillance records.

“These are the reasons he was detained,” the report reads. “There is no credible evidence to support otherwise, and certainly not to support the accusation of racial profiling.”

In a letter attached to the report, EPD Chief Richard Eddington wrote that police handcuffed Diwani because they feared he might run away. They brought him to the front of the house from the back in order to more speed up the identification process, Eddington wrote.

“In this instance, the continued movement by the juvenile influenced the officers’ perception of the need to utilize handcuffs to detain him,” Eddington said. “It should be noted that when another juvenile was stopped during this burglary investigation, flight was not a perceived risk, consequently handcuffs were not utilized.”

The report also clears Buell of other alleged misconduct, including refusing to answer Greenwell’s questions and having a “condescending attitude” throughout the ordeal. According to the report, Buell told internal investigators that he tried to apologize to Diwani but was cut off when Greenwell started “bashing police and me as a white officer.”

In her interviews for the EPD investigation, Greenwell recalled that five EPD officers, including one black male officer, surrounded her handcuffed son during the original burglary investigation. She said when she attempted to stand next to Diwani, he told her to step away, repeatedly telling her police actions were not informed by racial profiling.

“You’re a black male; you know what racial profiling looks like,” Greenwell reportedly answered.

After Diwani was exonerated, all the officers except Buell left without apologizing, Greenwell said. She recalled that she demanded that Buell apologize to her son and ordered Diwani out of the house to accept it despite the fact that he was crying and angry. However, Buell’s apology “felt insincere and condescending” to Greenwell, according to the report.

“This is why black males have a very negative impression of police, because of encounters like this,” Greenwell then reportedly said.

“Well, I grew up in the projects,” Buell replied, according to the report.

In September, Diwani’s mother filed a federal lawsuit against Buell and Evanston. Although the city was dropped as a defendant in the case earlier this week, the family’s attorney said the case against Buell will continue.

Greenwell family attorney Christopher Cooper told the Chicago Tribune that the internal investigation was a “cover up by a small-time police agency that really needs to take lessons from the larger agencies on how to stop-and-frisk.”

Greenwell declined to comment on the results of EPD’s internal investigation Sunday. She said she wishes to observe the police department’s presentation tonight before responding, but confirmed she has not withdrawn her lawsuit against EPD.

Her statement following tonight’s Human Services Committee meeting will address the merits of the investigation and its impact on Diwani. Greenwell added that her friends, neighbors and supporters in the black community have yet to respond to EPD clearing Buell of misconduct because the news hasn’t had time to spread.

Greenwell told The Daily after filing the lawsuit that she hopes to improve EPD procedure for interacting with young people during investigations and change police-community relations for the better. Eddington said in his letter that EPD will seek advice from Eastern Kentucky University Prof. Aaron Thompson of, an expert in race relations, to improve future police behavior.

“Policing of a free and democratic society is a most complex undertaking that can always be improved by additional training,” Eddington said.

This article has been edited for clarity.

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