Local officer under fire over video showing confrontation with Black man at restaurant

VANDERGRIFT, Pa. — A Vandergrift police officer is under fire for a video that shows him confronting a Black man and not telling him why.

Marcus Townsend, the man who was confronted by the officer Saturday morning inside G & G Restaurant, said he believes he was racially profiled.

Townsend, 20, took the video himself, and it quickly began circulating on social media.

According to Townsend, the officer walked up and started asking questions about his girlfriend’s service dog.

“He had just came in and had a problem with the dog at first. He didn’t want the dog in there. He wanted to see service papers. We don’t carry service papers. It’s just not necessary,” Townsend said.

Townsend said he asked his girlfriend to take the dog home while he stayed to sort things out. That’s when things escalated.

“When the dog went home, that’s when I pulled my phone out because that’s when he started talking about, you know, you were smoking dope outside the restaurant. I was like, ‘No, I wasn’t smoking. I came here to eat,’” Townsend said.

Townsend is heard on the video repeatedly asking the officer what he did. He showed the officer his ID, but that wasn’t good enough.

The officer started asking Townsend to leave, claiming he was called to the restaurant for him.

“When I got outside, he sat me down and basically wanted to run a criminal background, wanted to see if I had warrants,” Townsend said.

When the officer found out Townsend was clear, he still ordered him off the property, stating the manager didn’t want him there.

However, the owners of G & G Restaurant told Channel 11 they didn’t know why police were called, and they never asked Townsend to leave. They even snapped a photo with him about an hour after the incident.

Channel 11 later found out the incident started as a 911 call for a “man smoking marijuana” outside the restaurant just before 8 a.m. Vandergrift’s police chief, Joseph Caporali, said because it doesn’t appear that any “criminal activity occurred on the part of the officer,” this is being handled internally.

Caporali told Channel 11 he is scheduled to interview Townsend about what happened later this week, and any potential disciplinary action against the officer involved will be determined by the borough’s council. The officer is on administrative leave pending the investigation.

Townsend went back to the restaurant 40 minutes later and the manager welcomed him in, even snapping a picture with him.

“I don’t think it would’ve been the same if I was white, if I didn’t have the dreadlocks and tattoos,” Townsend said.

The owners of G & G Restaurant said they had no idea what was going on or why police were called to their business. They reiterated that they never asked Townsend to leave.

Channel 11 News went to the Vandergrift Police Department for answers, but was told the chief won’t be in until Monday and is the only person allowed to give a statement.

Emails to the officer involved and the borough council have received no response.