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Officers Hold Family at Gunpoint After License Plate Mix-Up

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Demetria Heard was driving with her family from their home in Arkansas to a youth basketball tournament in the Dallas area on July 23 when she noticed that a police officer had been following her for several minutes.

She told herself it was probably nothing, but soon the siren was on and the cruiser’s lights were flashing. She pulled over, and the next thing she knew, an officer was pointing a gun at her Dodge Charger.

Body camera footage later released by the Police Department in Frisco, Texas, north of Dallas, shows an officer ordering Ms. Heard to get out of the car and walk backward toward officers on the side of the closed freeway. Officers then instructed her son, who is in the sixth grade, to do the same.

After several chaotic minutes, the officers realized they had made a mistake. They had stopped the car, which they thought had been stolen, after running the license plate number with an “AZ,” for Arizona, instead of an “AR,” for Arkansas.

The department issued an apology, but that may not be enough for Ms. Heard and her family, who are working with a lawyer and say they are considering filing a lawsuit.

Ms. Heard choked back tears at a news conference on Thursday as she gave her account of the incident. Even after it was over, she said, she didn’t feel much relief.

“I was in shock. I was scared. I wanted to get away from them,” she said. “That’s really all I was thinking about.”

Mark Hampton, the family’s lawyer, described the encounter at the news conference as an “unwarranted and illegal traffic stop,” and a situation that could have ended with someone getting hurt.

“It could have ended in severe physical injury or death if they made a false move while this stop was going on,” Mr. Hampton said.

The body camera footage shows an exchange that became more tense when Ms. Heard let the officers know that she had a gun locked in her glove compartment. Ms. Heard said she had a concealed-carry permit that she was prepared to show the officers.

“We know there is a gun in there,” the officer yells through a loudspeaker. “If you reach in the car, you may get shot, so be careful.”

He then shouts, “We need more officers.”

Ms. Heard was traveling with her husband, Myron Heard, their son and a nephew. In the video, Mr. Heard explained to the officer that the family was just trying to get to a youth basketball tournament.

“Listen, we’re just here for a basketball tournament,” Mr. Heard says. “Y’all put a gun on my son for no reason.”

Someone can be heard crying in the background.

The body camera footage shows the officers apologizing after acknowledging their mistake. The Frisco Police Department issued a statement apologizing for the episode five days later.

“We made a mistake,” Chief David Shilson of the Frisco Police Department said in the statement. “Our department will not hide from its mistakes. Instead, we will learn from them. The officer involved quickly accepted responsibility for what happened, which speaks to integrity.”

At the news conference on Thursday, Ms. Heard questioned why her family had been pulled over.

“What was the reason they pulled me over to begin with?” Ms. Heard said on Thursday. “Chief Shilson said they had a lot of stolen Chargers, but what makes you think I stole mine?”

Ms. Heard and her family are Black, and Dia Nicholson, the mother of the other boy in the car, said she believed racial profiling was at play.

“This should have never happened,” Ms. Nicholson said. “It happened because they are Black. Period.”

The officers called the family three days after the encounter, but Ms. Heard and Ms. Nicholson said they were skeptical that their efforts were sincere.

“It leads me to believe you’re only calling because of the media outrage,” Ms. Nicholson said. “If you’re that concerned, you would have called when you found out.”

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