For a moment it seemed as if Chanel Sapp-Young’s 24-year-old son Brenden Eans had simply disappeared. After being arrested at work on a recent Friday afternoon, Eans spent five days in a South Carolina jail, now his mom is recounting her harrowing search for answers while her son was the victim of a wrongful incarceration.
Arrested for crimes he did not commit, Eans had been transported to the Chester Detention Center in South Carolina by deputies from the Chester County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office, who had detained Eans at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s request, maintained they would not release Eans or transport him to Charlotte until CMPD extradited him.
Now a CMPD officer was telling Sapp-Young that the request might never come, because the department had no record of her son’s arrest. “I have no warrants in my system for him,” Sapp-Young remembers the officer telling her. “I don’t know why they have your son.”
Meanwhile, Brenden Eans was sleeping on the floor of an overcrowded cell in the midst of a highly infectious pandemic. His wrongful incarceration, based on a case of mistaken identity, would last five days.
Sapp-Young says her family’s ordeal began Friday, Aug. 7, at 8 p.m. Eans’ girlfriend Lanita Glenn called, nearly in hysterics. Eans, described by his mother as a mature young man who doesn’t drink, smoke or party, hadn’t come home. Glenn had tracked his iPhone to the Chester Detention Center. When she called there, they told her he was in custody but would give her no further information.
The Search Begins
With Eans’ stepfather Richard Young at the wheel, Sapp-Young jumped into the car. They made the trip from their home in Winston-Salem to Eans’ Charlotte apartment to pick up Glenn, then crossed the state line to arrive at the detention center. Sapp-Young remembers it was after hours.
Speaking through an intercom beside the locked door, the family learned that because CMPD had asked the Chester County sheriff’ to pick up Eans, only CMPD could tell them why he was being held. The detention center was going to hold Sapp-Young’s son until CMPD came to get him, and they would not allow Eans a phone call because the Chester County Sheriff’s Department had not arrested him in the first place.
There was one piece of good news, if you could call that: Eans was scheduled to go before a Chester magistrate Saturday. The family went to a motel and came back the next morning, but there was no court date scheduled for Brenden.
“The story we were given was not true,” Chanel-Sapp says.
So, Chanel Sapp-Young, Richard Young and Glenn drove to CMPD headquarters in Uptown looking for answers. Chanel-Sapp approached a female officer in her squad car and asked her to look Eans’ name up. That’s when Sapp-Young learned the department had no record of a warrant issued for her son. He was trapped between a sheriff’s department in Chester that claimed they could hold Eans indefinitely until they heard from CMPD, and a police department that could find no record of his arrest.
The officer directed the family to go around the corner to the Mecklenburg County Detention Center on East 4th Street, Chanel-Sapp says. There they hit another wall, a deputy saying the department didn’t know anything about Eans.
Help Comes From Social Media
Throughout this process, Sapp-Young had been keeping people abreast on social media, posting updates about her wrongfully arrested son. A complete stranger, a friend of Eans’ best friend’s mother, had obtained copies of the warrants issued for Eans through a bail bondsman they knew. They sent those copies to Sapp-Young, who produced them and showed them to the deputy. Finally, the story came out.
On Thursday, Aug. 6 at 11:50 a.m., an assailant damaged property at a University City storage facility, then assaulted a police officer before leading officers on a chase from which he eventually escaped.
Meanwhile Brenden Eans, who had graduated from UNC Charlotte in December, was working at Carolina Poly in Chester, where he is a mechanical engineer manager. Between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Friday, Chester County Sheriff’s deputies armed with warrants from Charlotte marched into the plant, handcuffed Eans and walked him out in front of his boss and co-workers. If they had stopped to ask anyone where Eans was at 11:50 a.m. on the previous day, Sapp-Young insists, the staff would have told the deputies that the suspect they currently had in custody had an ironclad alibi — he was at work. But the deputies didn’t ask.
“We knew that was not a good situation,” Sapp-Young says, “because [the police] thought that he actually beat up a police officer.”
A Mother Who Refuses to Shut Up
By the time Sapp-Young and her family had finished talking with the deputy at the Mecklenburg County Detention Center, the Chester Detention Center had relented and allowed Eans to call his family. He had finally been told the charges against him, but he had no other information.
On Monday, the family talked to an attorney, who told them not to antagonize the police, to take down their social media posts and let the legal process play out.
“There was nothing we could do to get him out,” Sapp-Young says, recounting the lawyer’s advice. “No one was going to listen to us. [He] told us to be quiet.”
Sapp-Young did no such thing. Warrants in hand, she, Young and Glenn went back to Chester, where authorities had told them Eans would have another day in court before a magistrate. Once there they learned that, once again, Eans had no date scheduled. In Chester, Sapp-Young spoke to the arresting officer Corporal Beasley.
“Beasley told me, ‘I did my research. I know we have the right person. His height matches. His eye color matches,’” Sapp-Young says. The description was an African American with hazel to green eyes and a blondish sandy-colored beard and mustache, she recalls.
“Every Black man walking around today matches that description,” Sapp-Young maintains.
Then a friend contacted Sapp-Young and advised her to speak with Charlotte City Council member Braxton Winston. A call on Tuesday to Winston’s office provided Eans and his family a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
After telling her story to an assistant, Sapp-Young received a call from Demi Smith-Wright with the Chester sheriff’s office. Smith-Wright in turn referred Sapp-Young to CMPD detective Josh Gibson. Sapp-Young had gotten the direct number for the HR director at Carolina Poly, her son’s place of employment. She gave Gibson that number.
“A little while later [Gibson] calls me back and says, ‘You’re right. He was at work. We’re sorry. We’ll start the wheels in motion to get him released,’” Sapp-Young says, the relief in her voice audible.
Released From a Wrongful Incarceration
After five days in jail, Eans was released. He came home Wednesday, Aug. 12, at 1 a.m. He confided to his mother that he had felt certain he was going to remain imprisoned in the Chester Detention Center indefinitely.
Later that morning, Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden called Eans, who did not tell Sapp-Young all the details of the conversation, but described McFadden’s demeanor as deeply apologetic.
“Now the CMPD is another story,” Sapp-Young says. “The police department asked me to call them. But … we did not call them back because they kept saying, ‘The person who did this is still out there, and we still need to talk to Brenden about it.’ There is nothing he has to say about this crime.”
As of this writing, Sapp-Young’s son has had no subsequent contact with CMPD.
When Queen City Nerve contacted CMPD and asked about Eans’ wrongful incarceration and the family’s allegation that Eans was not able to make a phone call on Friday, the department issued this reply: “The CMPD Internal Affairs Bureau has launched an investigation to ensure the officers involved in the case followed department policy. Any questions concerning his stay in the detention center should be directed to Chester County authorities.”
Queen City Nerve also contacted the Chester County Sheriff’s Office. They replied with the following statement: “The Chester County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department on August 7, 2020 and was requested to arrest Brenden Eans at a location in Chester County, pursuant to an arrest warrant from Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.
“Chester Sheriff’s Deputies confirmed the warrant was active in NCIC. As a result of the active warrant confirmation, Deputies took Eans into custody, and he was housed at the Chester County Detention Center until picked up by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department on August 11, 2020.”
Sapp-Young says her son is not the demonstrative type, but a mother knows when her child has been traumatized. She feels that if this case of mistaken identity and wrongful incarceration could happen to her straight-arrow son, it could happen to countless other young Black men.
“Some people say it was only five days, but it was five days of his freedom,” she says.