Black ELHS student mistaken for suspect in October incident at ELPL, confronted by library administrators and police


Photo by Allison Treanor

Several hours after the incident, the library’s Teen Room sits mostly empty. Most students who use the room are waiting for their parents to finish work, so they can be picked up.

Editor’s note: Portrait has elected to not reveal the names of the students involved in the incident in order to protect their identities.

On Wednesday, Jan. 11, a Black ELHS student was confronted by East Lansing Public Library administrators over an alleged incident in October, according to first-hand witness reports. Police were called by library administrators to ask the accused student to leave the library, after an administrator reported feeling “threatened” by one of the students.

At the library, firsthand witnesses reported seeing the library’s director and assistant director walk into the Teen Room around noon, addressing all of the teens in the room. After greeting the students, the assistant director approached a student who was sitting with his brother and a group of friends. She asked him to follow her elsewhere, telling them the student were on the no-entry list. The administrators gave the student a release form formally stating that they would not be allowed to re-enter the library. 

Library administrators enter the Teen Room to speak with students on Jan. 11 after police arrive. Click the arrow in the upper right hand corner to view the video. Video courtesy of Imani Trowell

Upon hearing the accusation, the student’s older brother stepped in, with both the student and his brother denying the accusation. After some back and forth between the brothers and administrators, the administrators left to talk with other staffers. During this time, police were called. After nearly 20 minutes, two police officers entered the Teen Room and questioned the student and his brother, as well as other teen witnesses. With the police in the room, the administrators reentered the room and asked the student to leave again. The student called his mother, who spoke with the administrators and decided to come to the library. 

When the mother arrived, administrators came out with a picture from the security cameras. The crowd that had now gathered looked at the photo and some became frustrated after concurring that the picture did not match the student. Witnesses reported hearing the staff giving a verbal apology to the mother and the brothers. 

The mother expressed frustration at the library staff for creating an incident that disrupted other teens in the Teen Room, most of whom were Black. 

“You owe all these Black children an apology,” the mother of the accused teen said upon confirming the person in the photo was not her child. 

The student and his older brother, who stepped in for him, left with their mother after the police determined no further action was required. The police left soon after. 

The October incident involved library administrators alleging two boys were “burning a wall” in the boys bathroom. At the time, the library told student witnesses it was a test of the alarm system. Portrait has yet to obtain official records of the October incident from the East Lansing fire department.

The library allegedly placed a suspect on a no-entry list on the day of the incident, according to first hand witness Imani Trowell (11). Other witnesses said multiple other students had been added to the no-entry list since the incident in October, not including the incident on Wednesday. 

Notably, the boys in the surveillance footage from the October incident are light-skinned with one being significantly taller, and according to student witnesses, every accused boy has been dark-skinned and shorter than the suspect.

Multiple firsthand student witnesses of both incidents allege the boy accused on Jan. 11 was not present for the October incident. 

For several hours after the incident, top library officials were not available for comment, and other officials were not able to. This is the first part of our coverage of this story. You can read the update here.