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Hollywood couple: Police in South Carolina racially profiled us

Oct. 2, 2013 at 9:13 AM ET

Video: Actors Cherie Johnson and Dennis White are speaking out about what they say was a case of racially profiling by South Carolina police involving a traffic stop. The Marion County Sheriff’s Office said they “will take immediate and appropriate action,” to investigate. NBC’s Mara Schiavocampo reports.

A Hollywood couple claim that during a recent trip to South Carolina, what was supposed to be a romantic getaway ended up with them in handcuffs because they were racially profiled by police.

Actors Cherie Johnson and Dennis White are speaking out about the way they were treated by a Marion County sheriff’s deputy when they were stopped on their way to Myrtle Beach. Johnson, best known for her roles in the television shows “Punky Brewster” and “Family Matters,” and her boyfriend, White, who was in the movie “Notorious,” said they were initially stopped and ticketed for speeding. A short time later, they pulled over to take pictures on the side of the road when they say another police officer pulled up behind their parked car.

“Cherie, she was like, ‘I’m just taking a picture,’ and put her hands up, and he grabbed for his gun and said, ‘Get in the car,'’’ White told TODAY’s Maria Schiavocampo on Wednesday.

“At that point, I was kind of like, ‘Whoa,’’’ Johnson told Schiavocampo.

The officer questioned them, asking them to step out of the car, and then initially claimed there was a warrant out for Johnson’s arrest, according to the couple.

“I said, ‘Sir are you doing this because we're black?’’’ Johnson said. “He kind of just patted the car, gave me a look, and walked to his car. The next thing I knew, he was putting on his gloves, and he was handcuffing Dennis. I couldn’t understand why he was handcuffing. We didn’t do anything wrong.”

The couple claim the officer then accused them of having drugs in the car.

“I said, ‘Well, what was your probable cause?’’’ Johnson said. “Why do you feel that you need to search the car? He told me there could be a dead body in the trunk. That was the only probable cause he gave.”

The officer let them go after searching the car and finding nothing, and also later said there was no warrant out for Johnson’s arrest, according to the couple. The Marion County sheriff’s office released a statement saying racial profiling is “strictly prohibited” and that it “will take immediate and appropriate action” to investigate the allegations. It also is asking the state law enforcement division to review the allegations.

“I was praying,’’ Johnson told TODAY. “I just wanted to call my mom. I was scared for our lives.”

“I just felt like there was nothing that we could’ve done to prevent that situation,’’ White added. 

Johnson and White have taken to social media to tell their story:




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