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Mother and 8-year-old son detained at gunpoint in California in ‘mistaken identity’ stop

A nine-months pregnant woman and her 8-year-old son were stopped by police in Sacramento, California, and held at gunpoint in what the department calls “a case of mistaken identity.”

Shanice Stewart was driving her 8-year-old son to football practice last Tuesday when officers initiated what they called a “high-risk” traffic stop.

“We could have been shot,” Stewart told CNN.

The Sacramento Police Department said in a statement to CNN they were looking for a juvenile suspect who “was wanted for two felony warrants, including a warrant for gun possession.”

Stewart said she immediately pulled her purple car to the side of the northern California freeway when the lights on the patrol car behind her went on, expecting the officer to pass. Instead, she says three other law enforcement vehicles also stopped, halting all freeway traffic.

While following officers’ instructions, tossing her car keys out the window and slowly exiting the vehicle, she directed her son, Brandon, to stay in the car with his seat belt on.

“I got out of the car with hands up and back turned toward the officers,” Stewart said. When she turned around, she said it appeared that the officers had realized she was not the person they were seeking and beckoned her toward them.

“As officers were conducting the stop and the windows were rolled down, they realized the juvenile in the vehicle was not the wanted suspect, and at that point, the high-risk stop was ended,” said the police statement.

That’s when her son quickly exited the family vehicle. “He was crying and pleading with the cops, ‘Please don’t take my mom,’” she said.

Stewart asked her son to stay put, but the officer said it was OK and asked him to also come over. As she stood with her son on the freeway, a responding officer explained the heavy police presence, which included drawn weapons and a helicopter, saying they had been looking for a suspect for two years who had previously led officers on a pursuit.

“They said he fit the description because of the texture of his hair and his white shirt,” Stewart said, adding that police explained Brandon had been identified by a helicopter team hovering above the family’s apartment. That explanation “does not sit with me well at all,” Stewart said.

“He has a baby face. He’s little,” she said. “He weighs 56 pounds and is 3-foot-10.” Even in his football uniform, Stewart said her son looks small.

Stewart says a member of the department spoke to her the day after the incident to further explain that the person they had been looking for was a juvenile.

Both mother and son stood sobbing along the side of the freeway in disbelief, Stewart said, her son turning to her to make sense of it. “They thought I was a suspect?” she said he asked. Now she says he’s terrified to travel on the freeway at all. “Any time he sees an officer, highway patrol, or a sheriff, he freezes up. I think it’s going to stick with him,” she said.

Brandon is not yet comfortable speaking about the incident, so Stewart is seeking a therapist for her son. She intends to file a complaint against the police department and expects them to pay for her son’s counseling.

“If it wasn’t for them, he wouldn’t even need this,” she said.

The police department said the incident is under review.

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