What This Father's Terrifying Story Teaches Us About Black Lives Matter

August 14th 2016

Aron Macarow

A father and his 7-year-old daughter had a terrifying encounter with the Arizona Highway Patrol late Thursday night while on vacation from San Francisco. His subsequent Facebook post about the frightening incident was widely shared — and may offer insight into the arguments of the Black Lives Matter movement about the reality of police violence.

Ken Walton wrote a lengthy Facebook post early Friday morning that his family was held at gunpoint by what he characterized as an out-of-control highway patrolman on their way to visit the Grand Canyon in a Las Vegas rental car.

"Tonight, I was arrested at gunpoint by an Arizona highway patrol officer who threatened to shoot me in the back (twice) in front of my 7-year-old daughter," Walton wrote. "For a moment, I was certain he was going to kill me for no reason. I'm alive, and I need to share the story. PLEASE SHARE IT, because I have an important reason for staying up past 1 a.m. to write it down."

Fellow Facebook users have shared it: More than 30,000 times as of this writing.

Walton said that he was pulled over in Williams, Arizona, as he exited Interstate 40 on the way to the Grand Canyon. Initially, he wondered if the stop was because of a "broken taillight or something," because he "hadn't been speeding."

The stop soon turned into something out of the ordinary.

Walton said that he rolled down the rental car's driver's side window. But the officer "rapped on the rear passenger side window with his pistol."

"My daughter, who was sitting inches from the barrel of his gun, jumped with fear as the officer yelled at me to roll down the front passenger window, his service weapon pointed directly at me," Walton said.

The highway patrolman ordered Walton to exit the car, face away from the officer, and prepare to be arrested, Walton said:

"Then, as I had my hands in the air, he yelled, at the top of his lungs, in a voice I will never forget, as my daughter looked on in terror, 'Get your hands away from your waist, or I'll blow two holes through your back right now!'"

Walton said that his hands were already in the air at the time of the officer's threat:

"I was utterly terrified. I've heard stories of police yelling out false things like this before they unjustifiably attack someone as a way to justify the attack, and I thought this was what was happening to me. I braced for bullets to hit me, and all I could think of was my daughter having to watch it happen and being left alone on the side of the highway with an insane, violent cop."

The Arizona Department of Public Safety told a different story.

"The bottom line is, our trooper did everything correctly," state DPS Capt. Damon Cecil told the Arizona Daily Sun.

Arizona DPS officials said that the highway patrolman, who has been identified as Oton Villegas, ran the rental car's license plate through the FBI's National Crime Information Center database. The car came up as stolen. The information later turned out to be incorrect because the rental car company incorrectly replaced the license plates after it reported earlier that the front plate was stolen.

During the incident, the patrolman called for backup, but because "he was alone, and this was a high-risk situation, of course he had his gun drawn," Cecil told the Daily Sun.

For his part, Villegas said that Walton refused to shut off his vehicle or comply with his instructions.

Unfortunately, since there was no dash camera in Villegas' patrol car, and he was not outfitted with a body camera, there is no outside footage to corroborate either version of events.

Most U.S. police agencies have plans to implement body cameras in the future, but only 18 percent considered their body camera programs to be "fully operational," according to a recent survey.

No matter whose story you believe, Walton's message is loud and clear.

Walton related the traumatic events not only to share his story, but also to help others understand the arguments of Black Lives Matter activists and other critics about police violence:

"If you are a person who has ever looked skeptically at the claims of Black Lives Matter, or others who talk about police violence, I urge you to consider what happened to me and put yourselves in the shoes of others. I just survived a bizarre gunpoint situation in which I was as innocent as Philando Castile, who was not as lucky as I was. We live in a society where anywhere and everyone can have a gun at any time, and police are responding with fear in dangerous ways. I got lucky tonight. My daughter and I made it to the Grand Canyon and I'm going to try to salvage what's left of our vacation. Many others — because of the color of their skin or the way they look or because of simple bad luck — did not meet the same fate."