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Black real estate agent, clients handcuffed outside of Michigan home they were viewing

When a Black real estate agent glanced out the window of a house he was showing and saw a police officer circling the property with his gun drawn, he was afraid there was a fugitive in the yard.

“This is kind of a nice house, but there’s a criminal outside,” Eric Brown said he thought to himself when he saw the officer.

At the time, he was giving Roy Thorne and the man’s 15-year-old son, Sammy, a tour of a Wyoming, Michigan, home.

“He’s not going to buy this house now,” Brown worried.

However, he said he grew less concerned with making a sale and more concerned with staying safe when he noticed a second officer “behind a tree making hand gestures.”

Before the afternoon was over, police officers would order the trio out of the home and place them in handcuffs.

A typical showing

Brown, 46, with Grand Rapids Real Estate, arrived at the two-story, two-garage, brick-covered home at 2 p.m. Sunday and did what he always does. He tested the doorbell, used an app on his phone to open a lockbox that held the key and let himself in before his client arrived in order to open the closets and bedroom doors.

Real estate agent Eric Brown, left, said he was taking his client Roy Thorne and his son through a home in Wyoming, Mich., when he noticed a growing police presence outside.WOOD TV

Thorne, 45, who Brown has known since they were teens, and Sammy arrived 10 minutes later.

The three waved to neighbors outside doing Sunday things — the guy who was mowing the lawn, the family next door who was hosting an outdoor gathering.

They didn’t notice when the officers arrived.

‘Get out of the line of fire’

Brown knew the doors of the house were open. He feared a suspect was on the loose and might try come in the house to hide.

“If there’s anywhere to run, it’s going to be in this house,” he remembered thinking.

“They’re about to flush a criminal in to this house. We’re going to be hostages in here, and Sammy’s in the basement.”

Sammy suddenly rushed upstairs to report that there were more police officers in front of the home.

Thorne, who is also Black and is an Army veteran, told his son to “get out of the line of fire,” and opened a window to address the officers, Brown said.

“They were so focused on organizing themselves that they didn’t hear him screaming,” Brown told NBC News on Friday. “When the officer did hear him, the officer pointed his gun at the house.”

“That’s when I knew they were there for us,” he added.

‘It does something to you’

Brown said he and his clients were ordered to come downstairs and exit the front of the house one at a time, with their hands up.

“We realized, OK this has been going on for some time,” he said.

Three or four police vehicles were parked with their wheels on the sidewalk. And officers, using their open SUV doors as shields and with guns drawn, were waiting for the trio to emerge from the house.

As Brown, Thorne and Sammy exited the house, they were instructed to turn around and walk toward the officers backward.

“When you have several guns pointed at you and they tell you to turn around, it does something to you,” Brown said.

‘I’m just showing the house’

All three were handcuffed. Brown asked what the disturbance was and didn’t get an answer. Before he was about to be placed in the cruiser, he urged an officer to go into his pocket, pull out his wallet and find his business card, showing that he is a real estate agent. “I’m just showing the house,” he said.

The officer paused, and asked how Brown got in the house. Still handcuffed, Brown said he was led back to the entrance of the house to demonstrate how he got the key out of the lockbox.

The officers, with the Wyoming Police Department, took the handcuffs off the three and apologized, Brown said. They told him the house recently had a squatter. The squatter’s black Mercedes resembled Brown’s black Genesis.

But he couldn’t shake the feeling that in the overwhelmingly white neighborhood, he, his friend and his friend’s son had been racially profiled.

“This feels wrong. It feels bad,” Brown said. “My heart’s racing. Sammy looks 10 shades lighter. He’s clearly terrified and traumatized by the situation.” Meanwhile, the officers “just pulled off.”

He counted up to seven officers, all white. He said they did “zero due diligence” when they arrived to the house. They didn’t announce themselves or try to ring the doorbell.

“They didn’t come there to talk. The way that they moved around the house, Roy with his military training recognized that posturing. It flipped from we’re showing a house to we need to make it out of here alive,” Brown said. “I trusted that we were in danger, very serious danger.”

Department protocol

The Wyoming Police Department did not respond to multiple requests from NBC News for comment.

In a statement to NBC affiliate WOOD of Grand Rapids, Capt. Timothy Pols said officers were responding to “a 911 call from a neighbor reporting that a house was being broken into.”

“Officers were aware that a previous burglary had occurred at this same address on July 24 and that a suspect was arrested and charged for unlawful entry during that incident. The caller indicated that the previously arrested suspect had returned and again entered the house,” the statement said.

Brown, Thorne and Sammy were handcuffed “per department protocol,” Pols said. He did not address the officers surrounding the house with guns drawn or failing to announce themselves.

While Brown and Thorne are now speaking with a lawyer, he said they are focused on getting emotional support for Sammy, Thorne and himself “to heal as fast as we can.”

“I went from being afraid for my life to shellshocked to this is not right to now slightly angry,” Brown said.

“I felt definitely guilty of breaking into this house,” he said. “And I had the keys to it.”

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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.

Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.

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