Black Student Mowing Lawns Alleges Racial Profiling After Harris County Arrest

A video shot by Gipson captured some of his interaction with a Harris County deputy.
A video shot by Gipson captured some of his interaction with a Harris County deputy. Screenshot/Facebook/Beyond the Industry
Instead of pulling out his business card, the deputy pulled out handcuffs.

The Harris County Precinct 1 deputy was investigating an apparently suspicious man he saw going door to door. The man, 20-year-old Marlin Gipson, was only handing out his own business cards for his lawn-mowing business in a north Harris County neighborhood, and a lawn mower and other equipment sat beside Gipson and his friends' pickup truck, parked along the residential street. Still, the deputy explained that he was investigating what Gipson was doing, and would need to see some ID. Gipson told him his name (police and Gipson's attorney dispute whether he gave his true name) and that he was 19, born in October 1999 — which would have made him 17.

"Could I have a card, please, sir, to write your name down for me?" Gipson asked, according to a video of the encounter filmed on his cell phone and the dash-cam footage Constable Alan Rosen released — following accusations of racial profiling and massive backlash about how deputies responded soon after this initial encounter.

The deputy didn't give his name. He pulled out the handcuffs and told Gipson to put his hands behind his back.

Gipson, who is a business student at Blinn College, backed away, telling the officer no. "We cutting grass, sir!" he said as his friend approached. "You harassing us!" His friend told the officer he was doing this "just because he's black."

Rosen held a press conference late Wednesday afternoon to take questions about why deputies then followed Gipson to his home, came inside, broke down the bathroom door where Gipson was hiding, released a police dog on him, used a Taser on him twice and arrested him. He has been charged with failing to identify to a police officer and evading arrest.

The video of Gipson's encounter with the deputy and later of the dog bites and injuries he sustained during his arrest have since gone viral, but Rosen said, "I don't believe our officers have done one thing wrong at all."
"What I have seen thus far [from Gipson] is falsities. Untruths. He has not been truthful about anything," Rosen said. "And I can tell you, I have a dedicated workforce here. I stress the importance of the office looking like the community we serve. We have one of the most diverse offices there is in Harris County, and I'm proud of that, and it really incenses me to have somebody say that they were targeted because of their race."

Rosen said the deputy was originally suspicious of Gipson's going door to door because there had been a recent uptick in burglaries in that neighborhood. Rosen said that when the deputy realized that Gipson was lying about his age, this "further raised his suspicion." The constable said that despite the fact that a crime had not occurred, the deputy had every right to ask for Gipson's ID because he was investigating him, and that it was fine for the deputy to refuse to give him his own name because "we don't let a violator dictate the rules of how [the stop] goes. That's how an officer can get hurt."

Rosen said that, after Gipson's arrest, deputies discovered that Gipson had an outstanding warrant for the Class C misdemeanor — the equivalent of a traffic ticket — of threatening assault in 2015, which is why Rosen believes he did not give the officer correct identifying information. Gipson also has pending cases in Washington County, where he attends college, for resisting arrest/search and giving a fictitious name to an officer, Rosen said. (Gipson told KTRK the charges are related to a dispute at his college dorm.)

When a team of deputies arrived at his home to arrest him for the offense, Gipson filmed an officer telling him to come out, that he "just wants to talk." The video ends at that point, but Rosen says a family member allowed the deputies inside, who then had to break down the bathroom door to arrest Gipson after using their Tasers and police dog on him.

At the press conference, Rosen and responding officers provided limited explanation as to why it was necessary to use such force against Gipson inside his own home, while he was apparently cornered in a bathroom closet. Rosen and Deputy Lofton Harrison, who is head of the Internal Affairs Division and the patrol division, simply said they gave Gipson plenty of warnings to come out and warned him they had the dog ready.

Gipson's attorney, Lee Merritt, has accused the officers of racial profiling and using excessive force and abuse of power, saying he is preparing a civil rights lawsuit.

"After the unconstitutional and excessive arrest of a black college student while he was mowing lawns to make extra money over the summer, how do we expect law enforcement to respond to national outcry?" Merritt asked in a post on Facebook. "Character assassination of course," he said, referring to comments Rosen made about Gipson at the press conference.

Gipson's family has since filed an internal affairs division complaint with the constable's office. Rosen said that, if his family doesn't feel that his office investigate the complaint without bias, the Texas Rangers will take over the investigation.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn