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Philly police chief walks back defense of officers in Starbucks arrests

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Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross apologized to two men that his officers arrested for "defiant trespassing," even though he initially said that his officers did no wrong in hauling the men — who reportedly refused to leave a local Starbucks after being asked — off to jail.

What's the history here?

Two black men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were waiting for another colleague at the Philadelphia Starbucks last week when one of the men tried to use the restroom.

An employee reportedly told the man that the restrooms were for paying customers, and he had not made a purchase.

Things escalated when two police officers — who were summoned by the store manager — entered the franchise and told Nelson and Robinson that they'd have to leave.

Video of the incident, which showed police leading the two men out of the restaurant in handcuffs, went viral.

The men were arrested around 5:30 p.m. last Thursday. A district attorney refused to approve the charges, and released Nelson and Robinson from jail around 2 a.m. Friday.

Ross initially defended the actions of his officers, claiming that they "did nothing wrong."

What's the commissioner saying now?

The commissioner, who spoke from Philadelphia Police headquarters on Thursday, expressed regret at how he'd initially phrased things and issued a public apology to Nelson and Robinson.

"I'm here to discuss the unfortunate incident that has been in the news about this great city, an incident that I fully acknowledge that I played a significant role in making worse," he said. "For starters, I should have said the officers acted within the scope of the law and not that they didn’t do anything wrong. Words are very important."

Ross said he was unaware that customers will occasionally "spend long hours" inside the coffee shop, and added that his officers were not aware of that notion either.

"While it is no excuse, my lack of awareness of the Starbucks business model played a role in my messaging," he added. "While it is apparently a well-known fact with Starbucks customers, not everyone is aware that people spend long hours in Starbucks and aren’t necessarily expected to make a purchase. I have had multiple discussions over the last few days and and it is a — I shouldn’t say a well known fact, but a widespread belief, that everyone knows that about Starbucks. I am here to tell you that I did not and it is also reasonable to believe the officers didn’t know it either."

"I apologize to [Nelson and Robinson]," Ross amended.

According to the Inquirer, Ross said that a new policy had been completed "to guide officers  responding to similar trespassing and disturbance calls."

Ross did not provide any other details about the program at the time.

"I should not at all be the person that is a party to making anything worse relative to race relations," Ross added. "Shame on me if in any way I have done that."

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