Jay Pharoah opens up about run-in with police: 'I'm just happy to be here breathing'

The former "Saturday Night Live" star told Al Roker about an incident in April when he said Los Angeles police drew their weapons and handcuffed him after mistaking him for a suspect.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Scott Stump

Jay Pharoah said that a simple command from an exercise app on his phone may have been the difference between him walking away unharmed and a potentially much more dangerous situation in a frightening encounter with the police in April.

The former "Saturday Night Live" star told Al Roker on the 3rd hour of TODAY Wednesday that he was handcuffed on the ground by four Los Angeles Police Department officers pointing guns at him on April 26 while he was out for a jog.

He was using a running app that told him to slow from a jog to a walk just as he was approached by police.

"I'm just happy to be here breathing because they are other brothers and sisters who weren't as fortunate as I was in that situation,'' he said. "What's crazy to me is, all the training that I did over this quarantine with this app, if I would've been running through that situation at that time ... I wouldn't have heard that police officer, and the story could've been different.

"It would've been, 'Black man on Ventura resists arrest,' but luckily I'm here to tell my story, so breath of life, I'm good."

The LAPD declined to comment to TODAY about Pharoah's description of the incident, citing an ongoing investigation.

Pharoah said police mistook him for a suspect described as a Black man in a gray shirt and gray sweatpants. He said one officer put a knee on his neck while he was handcuffed. They eventually released him after a harrowing few minutes.

He first spoke about his experience in an Instagram video on June 12 in which he shared what he said was surveillance footage of the incident. NBC News has not been able to independently verify the footage, which Pharoah said he obtained from a private investigator.

"I'm still here to tell my story, and I could've easily been an Ahmaud Arbery or a George Floyd," Pharoah said in the Instagram video.

Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot to death after being pursued by three armed white men while jogging in Brunswick, Georgia, in February. The suspects arrested in his death have said they thought he was a burglary suspect. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died on May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground and knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Pharoah said he was chilled by the footage of Floyd's death.

"When I saw George Floyd's situation and I had already been through mine, I got seriously infuriated because you can see these stories a million times on the news, you can hear about them, (and) it won't resonate with you the same way until something similar happens to you," he said. "So I was just more passionate for a change and wanting a different reform with the policing system."

Pharoah said the situation began when a police officer approached him with his gun raised and told him to get on the ground. The "SNL" alum said he had been jogging along L.A.'s Ventura Boulevard.

"I'm looking like, 'Wait a second, are you talking to me? I haven't done anything,''' he said. "Officer put his knee on me, started putting me in cuffs. I was flabbergasted. I told them that if they looked up Jay Pharaoh they would see that they're making a mistake. A couple minutes later they let me go."

The actor and comedian added that there has been a silver lining to speaking out about the ordeal.

"A positive that has come out of this is the people of non-color who have hit me up, my friends, and they say it kind of puts things in perspective for them now as well because they couldn't feel what it was until somebody that they knew went through it,'' he said.

"It's showing people ... an innocent black person in America can lose their life, at any time their life can be threatened, and it shouldn't be like that because these are basic human, civil rights."