‘I was just tired of being black’: Student branded gang member speaks as police, school settle suit

Posted at 9:49 PM, Mar 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-18 10:40:00-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- In 2010, a group of West High School students said they were singled out by police as gang members simply because of the color of their skin.

The incident created an ongoing lawsuit between three students, the school district, and the three police departments involved.

On Thursday, a settlement was reached between the Salt Lake City School District and the Salt Lake City Police Department.

Kaleb Winston, one of the students involved in the lawsuit, was a freshman at the time.

“I was just tired of being black,” he said.

That’s how he felt after a police gang task force detained, searched and questioned him and more than 20 other minority students. Winston ended up being photographed and put into a database stating he was a gang member.

“I never had any contact with gangs, I’ve never been affiliated, I know of some but I’ve never hung out with them ever,” Winston said.

Winston’s parents said this type of profiling has gone on long enough.

“Really tired of seeing the same thing happen over and over again as a black, African American man,” Kevin Winston, Kaleb's father, said.

The Winston family said they hoped this lawsuit would bring about necessary change.

“We wanted to see this not happen to any other student in any other school in Salt Lake, in Utah, really across the nation,” Kevin Winston said.

In the settlement, the three students will receive a total of $60,000 from the Salt Lake City Police Department and Salt Lake City School District. More importantly to these families, the police and district have promised this won’t happen again.

“They are going to be more racially sensitive to kids like mine, and for me being a white mother in Utah to a black son, I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Lisa Winston, Kaleb's mother, said.

The Salt Lake City School District released this statement:

"The district put the training in motion in January 2016 with a vision to ensure that contact between police officers and students in school is appropriate and respectful.”

Salt Lake City Interim Police Chief Mike Brown issued this statement:

"Our officers are mentoring and building face-to-face relationships with the youth, in an effort to break down barriers that have been built up in the past. We see this settlement as a win-win for us and the community and it represents a path for moving forward.”

Kaleb Winston said it wasn't an easy road, but he's glad that his efforts mean other students may not have to face the same situation he was confronted with.

“I was scared and confused coming forward with the whole thing, I didn’t exactly know what to do, we didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I’m just happy I had the opportunity to go through it so somebody else doesn’t have to go through it.”

The other two police departments sued are West Valley City and West Jordan. West Valley City agreed to a $50,000 settlement last year, while West Jordan’s case remains open.