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Arrest Made After Hoax 911 Call Prompted Turnpike Traffic Stop

As a follow up to this report of high school kids returning from a college visit being stopped by NJ State Police with guns drawn. There couldn’t be a worse close to the story… Parents take note. Get your kids.

Newark, NJ—An arrest has been made in the case of a 911 call that claimed teenagers had brandished weapons at a turnpike rest area.

The ensuing traffic stop, during which state troopers drew their rifles, has caused claims of racial profiling, as the van that was stopped was full of minority teenagers from Queens. The 11 teens, who were accompanied by three chaperons, were returning from a field trip to Howard University. Safe Space NYC, a social service agency that helps disadvantaged children get out of the foster care system, had organized the trip.

One of the teenagers who was riding in the van, Rodney Tanzymore, allegedly made the call to authorities which led up to the traffic stop. According to state police, Tanzymore—who gave him name as “David Smith,” and who was calling from an emergency cellphone of the kind that can only dial 911—said that passengers of the van had brandished handguns while stopped at a turnpike rest area. Although describing the van, “Smith” did not, however, indicate that he was a passenger on it.

Police have not commented on a possible motive.

Tanzymore, 19, was arrested at his home in Queens, N.Y., on Monday. He was charged with causing a false public alarm—a charge which carries up to five years in prison.

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More on the HS kids / NJ Tpke story (w/ photo)



By Star-Ledger Staff
December 17, 2009, 9:30PM

MERCER COUNTY — The trooper in an unmarked cruiser circled the parking lot at the New Jersey Turnpike rest stop near exit 7A. He scanned for a black Mercedes van matching the description provided by a 911 caller who reported it carried three armed men, authorities said.

The trooper soon spotted a vehicle resembling the caller’s description, right down to the partial reading of the van’s license plate numbers. Within minutes after it pulled onto the Turnpike, the vehicle was swarmed by State Police troopers with weapons drawn. The occupants were marched out of the van and into handcuffs.

But instead of weapons, the troopers found 11 frightened Queens teenagers returning from an overnight trip to Washington, D.C.

Listen to the 911 call
[audio: http://media.nj.com/ledgerupdates_impact/audio/reststop.mp3]

The students — all black and Hispanic, ranging from 16 to 19 years old — were returning from a trip to Howard University, a historically black college. They toured the campus and visited classes, then visited landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.

The students said a helicopter circled overhead and they were led out of the van by troopers with the guns drawn. They were handcuffed and placed on the side of the road, they said.

“They were truly scared for their lives, without much of an explanation. And we were not given any adequate explanation,” said Molnar. “Was it necessary to cuff everybody, was it a credible complaint?”

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HS Kids Returning From College Visit Accosted by Police due to False Alarm

They were 11 black and Hispanic high school students on a college trip to Howard University, and they could not have asked for more — cool 16-person minibus with DVD player, great campus visit, magical tour of Washington at night.

But as he stepped haltingly backward off the bus, hands clasped behind his head as police rifles bristled, Kyron de la Rosa, 16, kept thinking about very different possibilities. “I kept thinking, ‘I really hope I don’t trip and fall because that could be the end of my life,’ ” he said. “I watch all the police shows — ‘America’s Most Wanted,’ ‘Cops,’ ‘World’s Dumbest Criminals’ — so I’ve seen things just like this on television, and I’m thinking: ‘Wow. I thought those kind of things only happened to criminals. What’s going on here?’ ”

What was going on, it turned out, was the response by the New Jersey State Police to a 911 phone call claiming the presence of a weapon when the students stopped for lunch on their way home Nov. 21 at the rest stop near Exit 7A of the New Jersey Turnpike near Trenton.

Students and their three supervisors say troopers cited a report of a black male in a gray sweatshirt carrying a gun.

kids


At first, five of the students said Tuesday in interviews at a Safe Space youth center, they assumed the police car trailing behind them must have been following something else. Then, alarmed, many thought they might be in trouble — for not wearing seat belts. And then, they watched in amazement as about 10 police cars drew up and officers deployed with rifles drawn as a helicopter buzzed overhead. One by one, they walked backward down the steps, were searched and handcuffed and were told to sit on a guardrail.

They felt humiliated as troopers seemed unconcerned when drivers got out of their cars to take pictures of them while they sat handcuffed. “I’m sure they thought what I probably would have thought — that we must have done something really bad to put ourselves that situation,” Justine Seales, 16, said.

Finally, no gun found, northbound traffic shut down for an hour, the youths were set free, with no apology or attempt to defuse the tension and hurt other than brusque explanations that the officers were just following protocol.