Zachary Dion McGraw and his wife Sabrina had only had pleasant encounters with police. Their daughters, ages 1 and 9, waved when friendly officers drove by the house on Charles Avenue in St. Paul that the family bought last year.
Then on the evening of May 6, the McGraws experienced what they described as a different side of the police.
That night, the parents were playing cards at a picnic table in the back yard with Zachary’s younger brother Nathan McGraw of Inver Grove Heights and his wife Danielle. Their children were inside, including Nathan and Danielle’s 4-year-old twin girls. Outside, a few feet from the picnic table, a single-speaker radio-CD player was on.
Quietly, life-size shadows appeared at the back gate and two men entered the yard. Only Zachary heard them say, “St. Paul Police. Turn off the radio.”
They startled us,“ said Nathan. “I saw their badge and thought maybe it was because of the radio, so I jumped up and cut it off. Then I saw them grab my brother in a way that scared me so much I went on the back porch and grabbed the house phone.” He dialed 911 and asked for Internal Affairs.
Within minutes, according to Nathan and Zachary, Zachary had been pulled to the side of the house, handcuffed, sprayed, slammed to the ground, kneed, kicked, and shot in the back twice with Tasers. More police ran into the yard — a neighbor counted 22 officers, including a canine unit — and they struck and sprayed Zachary, Nathan and the two wives. All four McGraws were arrested for “obstructing the legal process” and jailed for two days
The night this occurred was May 6, the anniversary of the fatal shooting of Police Sgt. Gerald Vick.
On June 19, Zachary, 30, appeared in court on the “obstructing” charge.
St. Paul NAACP President Nathanial Khaliq said he has received numerous reports lately of black people with no criminal history who are first subjected to police abuse and then charged with obstructing the legal process. The charge is classified as a gross misdemeanor that can draw up to a year in jail and a $3,000 fine. The NAACP is looking into the extent of this practice, with a view to preparing criminal and civil legal action against the police department. Khaliq also is receiving more reports of police treating black women roughly.
According to the complaint filed in Ramsey District Court against Zachary McGraw, Police Officers Allen Anderson and Erik Diserud were responding to a neighbor’s complaint about noise that night when they went into the back yard at 883 Charles Ave. Anderson asked the two couples “to turn down the music and go inside.”
The document says that McGraw refused, swore, and told the police to leave. The officers asked for his identification. He refused, and they took him to the side of the house where there was “a protracted struggle,” which “incited the three other people to advance upon the officers in an attempt to prevent the arrest.”
Next-door neighbor Janet Herron said that was not what she and her husband David saw and heard, as they watched, shocked, from an upstairs window directly above.
“I saw two officers drag Dion (Zachary) out the gate, onto the ground on his stomach, hands behind his back, cuffed. Officers continued to kick him repeatedly in his side. One officer said, ‘Quit resisting, quit resisting.’ Dion said he was not resisting and he was the homeowner. At no time did we witness Dion resisting or striking a police officer.”
As the commotion grew, Nathan said he yelled into the phone, “Help, help, anybody can come!”
He and the two sisters-in-law said they protested Zachary’s treatment and were sprayed, handcuffed, struck and pushed to the ground. Each was put, roughly, into a separate squad car. At the house and again at the jail, the McGraws said that officers ridiculed them, struck them, laughed and called them by racial slurs, adding sexual slurs for the women.
The mothers said that no one responded to their concerns about their children until they were at the jail. There, Sabrina said, “one nice officer” agreed to contact a third brother, Isaiah McGraw. When Isaiah got to the house, he said, the street was full of police cars and sealed off, officers were upstairs and downstairs, the house was a mess, the phone had been yanked out of the wall, and his nieces were crying. “All I could do was hold them.” Amber, 9 years old, has been seeing a school counselor as a result of the episode.
“We counted 11 squad cars and 22 officers, including the canine unit,” said the neighbor Janet Herron. She said that Zachary and Sabrina McGraw are “extremely thoughtful and caring neighbors,” and “their family means everything to them. They especially take pride in owning a home and maintaining it.”
Zachary was about to start a new job as a loader at a refinery. May 6 had been his last day at a construction materials company. Nathan works at a sanitation company.
“We’re good men,” Nathan told the officer who drove him to the jail. He said the officer had thrown him into the car, and “I was filled with helpless rage.” At the station, Nathan said that one officer pushed him into a door and laughed. Another grabbed his throat and shoved him against the wall. A third told him to face the wall then kicked him in the thigh.
Nathan, an Army veteran, said that if troops abroad acted like that, they’d be accused of violating the Geneva Convention; here there seems to be no such standard. “Before, we felt secure and safe,” he said. “Now, when officers ride through the alley, I get a chill.”
Danielle said she was kicked in the buttocks, grabbed by the hair, struck on the head and sprayed with Mace or pepper spray. One officer sprayed her repeatedly after she was in the squad car. “He asked, ‘Why didn’t you respect the police?’ I said, ‘I had nothing but respect for you-all, and you still kicked the s—- out of me and my family, so f—- you.’ He said I’d never see my kids again.” At the jail, she said an officer slammed her face into a brick wall.
Sabrina said she never had seen a fingerprint pad before and put her whole palm on it. An officer pulled her fingers back, painfully, then gave her a damp towel to wipe her face, which reactivated the stinging spray. She heard officers laugh at that and call her stupid. The McGraws said they did not receive detoxification treatment for the spray.
Zachary got four stitches in his lip at Regions Hospital. He has kept the work shirt he was wearing. It has grass stains and footprints on the back and sleeve. He said the experience changed him. “I feel like it took a piece of me,” he said, “a piece of dignity, being a man.” He added, “When it gets dark, we don’t sit in the back yard anymore.”