A police officer was questioning a group of teens in suburban Chicago when one of them asked the officer why he was being detained.
“Because I’m a teen? Because I have baggy pants?” the teen asked the police officer in footage of the incident, which was posted on Facebook Monday.
The officer — Lake Villa Detective Esteban Gomez — can be heard shouting back a response: “Because you’re white,” Gomez yelled at the group of teens as he walked away.
Video of the encounter had been viewed more than 40,000 times on Facebook as of Tuesday night. It was posted by Dezi Baczek, 18, one of the teens who had been detained by police outside a pawn shop in the suburb.
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Lake Villa is about 50 miles northwest of Chicago, not far from Illinois’ border with Wisconsin.
Gomez has now been disciplined for “behavior unbecoming an officer,” according to the Lake County News-Sun. He had been conducting a theft investigation at the time, and had told five teenagers to take a seat in front of the business, police said in a Facebook post.
“He will be assisting me with speaking to the parents and teens involved in this incident. I apologize to anyone who may have been offended by what is depicted on this video,” Lake Villa Police Chief Craig Somerville told the newspaper in a statement. “This occurred on my watch, and I assume full responsibility.”
Baczek, the teen who posted the video, wrote on Facebook that she had been inside a shop to pawn one of her possessions so she could use the cash to buy her brother a book. But when she came out, she said, Gomez confronted her.
“The second I walked outside, I was yelled at,” Baczek told the News-Sun, adding that Gomez threatened to arrest her if she didn’t sit on the curb.
That’s when Baczek and the others sat down — and when she started recording the encounter on her phone, she said on Facebook.
“[A]ll of us sitting down did not do anything wrong,” Baczek wrote in the post, adding that the other teens sitting down “were with someone who got into trouble” but that “we didn't know anything about it till that point.”
Baczek’s mother told NBC 5 that she called the police after the incident to bring Gomez’ comment to the chief’s attention.
“I was outraged. I was very upset,” Missy Maczek, Baczek’s mother, told NBC 5. “I felt like we were being outcasted because we’re white, which is just unheard of.”
Sommerville has since apologized to Baczek at the police station, the News-Sun reports.
“I honestly believe the chief means it,” Baczek told the newspaper.
The detective, for his part, said he regretted his statement.
“Det. Gomez admitted his words were poorly chosen and insensitive and he immediately regretted what he had said,” Somerville said.
The teens shown on the video were with the suspect of Gomez’ theft investigation, police said in a Facebook post.
One teen involved in the incident gave a fake name to police, Somerville said in the post, and was charged with obstruction of justice.