Prize-winning Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. Handcuffed After Police Respond to Hoax 911 Call

Leonard Pitts Jr. (Facebook).

Columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Leonard Pitts Jr. said he was woken up early in his home in Maryland on June 30 when six police officers knocked on his door after a hoax 911 call.Pitts told the Miami Herald that he and his wife were sleeping in their bed when his phone rang right before 5 a.m. The caller ID read City of Bowie, Maryland. When he answered his phone, he was told the police had received a phone call that someone was murdering his wife inside and was told to stay on the phone and come outside, the Miami Herald reported. He told the publication he compiled and walked outside to the officers.

“I knew that if I remained calm, it would be fine because there was nothing to hide,” Pitts told the publication.Pitts was told to put his phone on the ground and put his hands up by the officers. He was then told to get on his knees and put his hands behind his back in order to be handcuffed, the publication reported. Pitts said his wife, adult daughter, her wife, and his three-year-old granddaughter were inside his home while he was being questioned by police. They were asked to leave the home while officers searched the house.

Bowie Police Department Police Chief John Nesky told The North Star that the police had checked Pitts’ home and then realized that the call was a hoax. Nesky said he brought everyone back inside the home, apologized for the disruption, and that the incident is being investigated.“We are trying to determine where the call came from,” Nesky told The North Star. “It is still very early in the investigation.”

Nesky told the Miami Herald the department is not calling the incident a “swatting” incident, which is a false 911 call that leads to a SWAT team response.

“We were able to determine pretty quickly that there was nothing going on,” Nesky told the publication. “It’s a waste of resources for the police department, it’s unneeded stress for the family and the officers, and there is always the potential for something to go wrong.”

Nesky apologized to Pitts, saying that the columnist “didn’t do anything wrong,” the publication reported. He told the news outlet that these types of incidents do not happen often in Bowie, Maryland.

Pitts’ work has appeared in 250 newspapers across the US and he has a nationally syndicated column. He also wrote the novel Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2004, according to his website. He and his wife have lived in Bowie, Maryland, since 1995. Pitts’ editor, Herald Editorial Board Editor Nancy Ancrum, told the Miami Herald that the incident was “disturbing” and “alarming.”“As always, I and the Herald are concerned about Leonard’s safety and the safety of all of our writers,” Ancrum told the publication. “I am glad the Bowie police department is continuing to investigate this event.”

It is unclear if the phone call was racially motivated, but some states are trying to crack down on those kinds of 911 calls. Earlier this month, a bill titled HB 3216 passed through the Oregon State Senate, which would allow victims who had the police called on them to sue the caller for $250, NBC News previously reported.The bill was sponsored by Oregon state Representative Janelle Bynum, according to the Statesman Journal. Those who say they are victims of racially motivated phone calls must be “able to prove the caller had racist intent, and that the caller summoned a police officer to purposefully discriminate or damage a person’s reputation,” according to the publication.

“When someone gets the police called on them for just existing in public, it sends a message that you don’t belong here,” Bynum told the publication.Bynum experienced a similar experience when she was canvassing door-to-door for her re-election campaign in a neighborhood in Portland, Oregon when a white woman called 911 on her because she looked “suspicious,” The New York Times previously reported. Bynum told the publication that the woman called her to apologize.

“I don’t know if race had anything do with her call — she didn’t say that — but race had everything to do with my reaction, and my fear of not being treated well, my fear of maybe being misunderstood,” Bynum previously told the publication. “I was, of course, in disbelief.”


About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.