News report screengrab of Landry Thompson and Emmanuel Hurd that says, "HDB takes teen dancer to CPS."

If you’re sending your teenager on a trip out of state, you could pick worse guardians than 29-year-old Emmanuel Hurd and 22-year-old Josiah Kelly. Hurd is 13-year-old Landry Thompson’s instructor and Kelly is Thompson’s dance partner. After rehearsing dance moves until 3 a.m., the Tulsa men were taking the teenager on a trip to Houston to record a dance video at Houston’s Planet Funk Studio.

On their journey, while in a gas station parking lot, the trio was stopped by police. All three dancers were handcuffed, and Thompson was held by Child Protective Services for 11 hours—despite the fact that officers spoke to Thompson’s mother over the phone

“They were convinced I was a runaway,” Landry said.

Police then called Landry’s parents in Oklahoma, who were surprised by the officer’s tone. Destiny Thompson recalled the conversation.

“’Are you aware your daughter is with two black men?’ When I said ‘Yes, I’m aware of that,’ he called into questioning our parenting,” the mother said.

Landry is home schooled and travels frequently for dance. The Thompsons asked Hurd to look after their daughter on this trip. Realizing the group made an unlikely trio, they packed a raft of documents.

“Emmanuel had a letter signed by us, had every contact number they could’ve possibly needed, he had her insurance card, he had her original birth certificate, not a copy,” the mother said.

The couple even scanned their driver’s licenses and faxed them to police during all this. The Houston police officers did not believe the parents or the men.

The duo seem to be pretty good guardians, though—according to KHOU, they waited for her at CPS for the duration of her detainment, first in the lobby and then, after being asked to leave, in the car outside the building for six hours. 

The story made national news today, and it’s not hard to see why: Landry was detained for 11 hours despite traveling with people that her parents not only placed her in the care of, but who possessed extensive documentation of that parental permission. Raising questions about whether this is an instance of racial profiling certainly seems appropriate. 

HPD issued a statement in response to the attention, but it doesn’t address those specific concerns: 

In a statement, HPD said, “Given the age discrepancies, the fact that all three were from out of state, and the child had no relatives in the area, officers in an abundance of caution, did their utmost to ensure her safety” and sent her to CPS.

Landry’s mother was initially told she would need to travel to Houston herself to have her daughter released to her custody, but after repeated phone calls, the teen was finally released back to Hurd and Kelly. 

Comments on sites like Gawker have defended HPD

If police investigate suspicious activity people who are innocent are sometimes going to be inconvenienced. But if police ignore suspicious activity, then people will die from crimes that could have been prevented.

The fact is, it is not uncommon for children in this country to be trafficked into prostitution. People sleeping in a car in a convenience store parking lot strongly suggests drug activity. If you think the police should have seen that and ignored it, I’d really like to know what you think police are supposed to do.

To be sure, HPD’s decision to investigate the trio makes sense. While it’s not unreasonable to expect police to ask questions when they find a teenage girl in a car with men she doesn’t appear to be related to, it’s harder to explain why they were so steadfast in refusing to accept any of the answers. What should the police have done? That answer seems easy: accept the presented documentation and the girl’s parents’ explanation. But what should Hurd, Kelly, and Thompson have done? If notarized proof that they are authorized to travel with the girl isn’t sufficient, that’s a tough question to answer.