Sheriff’s deputy Alan Gaston thought they were on the same side.
One man, Mr Gaston, was a high-ranking officer in the Lucas County, Ohio, sheriff’s department with 34 years of experience.
The other was a security guard contracted to protect an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) office in Toledo.
But then the guard pulled his gun. He raised his voice. He put a hand on Mr Gaston’s arm and rested his finger on the trigger.
In a matter of seconds, what began with a routine errand at the IRS escalated into a frightening standoff between a white security guard and a black police officer, who said he heard hate in the guard’s shouts and believed he would be shot.
“You don’t expect to be ambushed by someone who you think is on the same team,” Mr Gaston told The Washington Post.
“I feel there was definitely some racial overtones involved. And I’m not the type of person to throw the race card, I’m just telling you the facts. I looked in his eyes and I saw hate in his eyes.”
He had stopped by the IRS office during his shift on 31 May to ask a question about a letter the agency sent him.
He was in full uniform, his badge and his firearm in clear view.
The security guard, identified in court documents as Seth Eklund, asked Mr Gaston to leave his gun in his patrol car.
When Mr Gaston replied he couldn’t do that, he said Mr Eklund became hostile. Mr Eklund accused Mr Gaston of reaching for his weapon, shouting “get your hands off your gun”, even though Mr Gaston said his hands were visible and nowhere near his holster.
Mr Gaston, who has years of experience teaching defensive tactics, decided it was time for him to leave.
He recalled a wide-eyed elderly couple in the office waiting room watching the exchange, and he said he feared for the bystanders’ safety. Mr Gaston turned to go.
As he walked out of the cramped office, Mr Eklund drew his gun, trained it on Mr Gaston’s back and followed him. At one point, Mr Gaston said, Mr Eklund tried to arrest the uniformed officer.
“He came around the corner with his weapon out, telling me, ‘you had your chance, you’re not going anywhere, I’m detaining you’,” Gaston said.
“That’s when I was preparing myself to be shot. The hate and anger he had against me, I was getting ready to be shot by this security guard for no reason.”
Mr Eklund, who could not be reached for comment, pleaded not guilty to one charge of aggravated menacing in a court appearance on Monday.
Mr Gaston and his wife have also filed a lawsuit against Mr Eklund and the two security firms that apparently employed him.
Representatives of those companies, Paragon Systems and Praetorian Shield, did not respond to requests for comment. The IRS declined to comment.
The local news station WTVG published what it claims to be security camera footage of the interaction and The Washington Post obtained screenshots of the video.
The images show Mr Gaston backing away and attempting to leave the building in an elevator. But Mr Eklund, gun still drawn, blocks the door with his foot.
Mr Gaston says he felt cornered, scared. He took out his phone to take a picture of Mr Eklund, he said, and the security guard finally holstered his weapon.
Heather Taylor, president of the Ethical Society of Police in St Louis, said that Mr Eklund behaved recklessly and likely would not have treated a white officer the same way.
“We know what it’s like being an African American police officer in a city,” Ms Taylor said. “A lot of us realise that, hey, even though you’re in uniform, that doesn’t mean you’re safe.”
The tense scene recalled other, infamous incidents with grisly endings. Ms Taylor pointed to the case of Jemel Roberson, a black security guard who was killed by a Midlothian, Illinois, police officer while they both responded to a shooting at the bar where Roberson worked.
She also mentioned Detective Jacai Colson in Maryland, who was killed by a fellow officer while working undercover. Mr Colson, according to a lawsuit, had his badge in his hand and was shouting “Police! Police!” before he was killed.
“You’re not given the benefit of the doubt as a minority,” Ms Taylor said. “It’s something we’ve been highlighting forever and now here’s another example of it.”
She applauded Mr Gaston’s cool demeanour in the face of what she said was potentially lethal bigotry.
Mr Gaston said he didn’t feel that Mr Eklund respected him as a law enforcement officer, and in more than three decades of police work has never dealt with anything like that.
He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression, he said. He’s been on medical leave and is seeing a counsellor twice a week. The civil suit Mr Gaston and his wife filed seeks compensation.
The standoff between Mr Gaston and Mr Eklund ended, he said, when Toledo police officers responded to a 911 call from inside the building that mentioned a man who has “got a gun” and “won’t leave”. The caller didn’t mention that the man was a police officer.
When Toledo police arrived, Mr Gaston recounted, they told Mr Eklund: “You know he’s a uniformed deputy sheriff, right? We can go anywhere in this building we want.”
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