Kennewick police hold business owner at gunpoint after mistaking him for shooting suspect

TRI-CITIES, Wash. – It was a terrifying situation for a local business owner who said Kennewick police officers held him at gunpoint when he was just trying to pick up some Taco Bell.

KAPP-KVEW’s Dru Miller spoke to police and the man whose story has now gone viral on social media.

Over the weekend, Kennewick police were looking for two Black men driving a red Dodge Charger who were suspected to have been involved in two recent drive-by shootings – one on West Hood Avenue, and the other on Canal and Buchanan.

Early Sunday morning, they located Joe Thornton in his red Dodge Charger and began investigating, but according to Thornton, he was not involved in the crimes. He was coming home from Taco Bell.

Thornton, who is a fitness trainer and owner of The Biz Talk Magazine, LLC, said he complied and tried to show police that he was not a threat, but claims the officers failed to deescalate the situation.

“I mean I understand their safety mattered. But when I deemed myself not a threat, when I showed them I didn’t have anything, that point right there could have got deescalated all the way down to zero if they would have just talked to me. But instead, they proceed to do the same thing – put me in handcuffs and embarrass me in front of all my neighbors, and deem me as a threat, as a suspect. That right there I cannot tolerate. I have done my job as a law abiding citizen. I have done my job. I’ve done my community service,” Thornton told KAPP-KVEW.

Lieutenant Aaron Clem with the Kennewick Police Department said officers followed protocol by waiting for backup with guns drawn because it was a felony investigation involving a weapon and two suspects.

“We don’t know whether he didn’t or didn’t do it in most cases, right? But we only have to go on what we know at the time. If you listen to the video she is saying ‘he was with me an hour ago, he just went to Taco Bell’ which was all true. But the officer doesn’t know that. The officer has to go on what the officer knows at the time, and at the time he knew that we had a drive-by shooting two nights prior with a red Dodge Charger and we had another shooting not to far away ten minutes prior. So those are the circumstances that he knows, so he has to conduct that investigation in order to determine whether this car and this person are involved,” said Lieutenant Clem.

Thornton was detained in handcuffs as police searched his vehicle for another person and weapons. Neither were found. Thornton believes his calm compliance was the reason why no one got hurt, but he wishes these traffic stops would be handled much differently.

“I was just one of the lucky ones. It’s sad to say I was lucky to walk away with my life when I look at the police officer as someone to protect me – and I’m lucky to walk away from them. And that bothers me,” Thornton added.

Here is Thornton’s full statement along with videos of the incident that he published on Facebook:

“I’m upset…for a minute there, I thought my life was over and all I could do was pray….all I did tonight was go grab food. Before they even said a thing to me, they announced to my entire neighborhood that I was a shooting suspect as you can hear on the video, but they didn’t explain anything to me until I was already in the police car, handcuffed!

A trip to Taco Bell tonight turned into guns drawn, handcuffs being placed on me, “detained,” no explanation as in why I was being pulled over, until after I had handcuffs on me and after I was placed in the back of a police car. My neighbors witnessed me being asked to Lift my shirt, walk backwards and all because “my car” matched a description. Car searched and all. This was embarrassing to be announced as a shooting suspect and totally uncalled for, being that all I did was take a trip to Taco Bell, this could’ve went another way, a trip to Taco Bell could’ve ended my life. Thank you God…

I am very disappointed in these precincts…this was lack of training. I am angry, I felt hopeless, and the only thing I could think of was my daughter…and trying not to make any sudden movements, that would take me away from her…my emotions are high, my nerves are bad. I thought tonight could have been my last night. I am a local business owner. I give back to My community on a daily, I am currently doing a series to show support for the good cops….and on top of it all, I am a father. None of this meant anything, guns drawn reminded me of this, and to be completely honest it makes you feel some type of way….No ID taken…nothing. I didn’t get read rights until AFTER one of the officers asked me about my whereabouts, after I was handcuffed and placed in the back of the police car. Where they again asked me about my whereabouts. They left me in the back of the cop car, where I told them that they did not have my permission to search my car…and yet they did anyways. Then came back to read me my Miranda rights….heartbreaking experience to say the least. My car was red, that’s all they had. This is not to say every police officer in this video or in the world is bad… this is just to show you how traumatic of an experience it is and how helpless you feel When you hear assault rifles behind you being locked and loaded….I just thank God tonight…. #aTripToTacoBell”