Shaker Heights police stop teen offering to shovel driveways

Posted at 11:27 PM, Feb 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-02 21:11:37-05

A Shaker Heights teenager was stopped by police while trying to make a few extra dollars shoveling snow. 

Taj Wilson wanted to help shovel driveways, but instead police stopped him. 

The officer warned him not to walk in the street for his own safety, but snow covered the sidewalks. At the time, police weren't sure if the 17-year-old had done something else wrong when a second officer came to the scene. 

Wilson's mother Nadia Lee encouraged him to do it.

"A lot of people can't afford companies to come plow, and that's how it gets done," Lee said.

When officers talked to Wilson about school, his mind wandered elsewhere.

He thought he could be: "Tossed to the ground, thrown in the back of the police car, shot."

He also saw other kids nearby with shovels and said police didn't approach any of them.

"And they were all white," Green added. 

The police officer asked for his identification, and when they ran it, it came back clean. 

Shaker Heights Mayor, Early M. Leiken said both the teen and the officers did nothing wrong. He also encouraged a meeting to discuss the family's concerns. 

Read the full letter from Mayor Leiken below: 

February 1, 2017

Ms. Nadia A. Lee

Dear Ms. Lee,

Thank you for informing me that your son was stopped on Monday by a Shaker Police Officer and that you believe that he was racially profiled. I want to assure you that the City of Shaker Heights and the Shaker Heights Police Department are dedicated to building deep connections between the police and all members of our community. We take complaints of this kind very seriously, even in cases, like this one, where the officer involved is African-American. I have personally reviewed the dashcam video of this incident.

The officer reports, and the video verifies, that he stopped a young man carrying a snow shovel who had been walking in the middle of the street and then began walking up a driveway.

The officer has stated that he had two reasons for stopping to talk with the young man:

  • Shaker Police were aware of incidents where individuals had been going door-to-door pretending to offer snow-shoveling services to gain access to homes to burglarize and the officer felt he had an obligation to confirm what the young man was doing.
  • The officer wanted to warn the young man that even though the sidewalks had not yet been cleared of snow, walking in the middle of the street was unsafe, knowing that a Shaker Heights teacher had been killed in the street in a relatively recent hit-and-run incident.

The video and audio show a cordial discussion between the officer and your son. The officer asked for and ran his ID, which is routine procedure for this kind of situation. Your son told the officer he had been trying to earn money by shoveling snow. The officer also asked your son where he went to school and what his plans were for college. The conversation ended after a few minutes.

In 2016, Shaker Heights experienced the lowest number of Part 1 (major) crimes since we began keeping records in 1959 because Shaker Heights police are vigilant. Earning a few dollars by shoveling snow shouldn’t attract the attention of police and it is a shame that criminals have made this necessary.

I understand that your son may have been upset about being forced to justify doing something that young people have done for their neighbors for decades. I also understand how tense such a moment can be and the fear that hearing of such an incident can evoke in parents.

In my view, your son was doing nothing wrong. However, I don’t think the Shaker Heights Police Officer was either. Ultimately, they both did the right thing – they talked with one another. And it’s by talking with one another that we can keep Shaker safe for all of us.

I felt it important to get something out to you in writing immediately, but I would urge that we get together with the officer and Chief at a mutually convenient time and address your concerns in person.


Earl M. Leiken