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Ryan Coogler, director of legendary Black films, was briefly handcuffed by Atlanta police after a bank teller mistook him for a robber as he passed her a note attempting to withdraw over $10,000 in cash.
Coogler walked into a Bank of America branch Jan. 7 and passed the teller a withdrawal slip with a note written on the back asking her to “be discreet when handing him the cash,” according to a police report. Coogler also had an ID card from California and his Bank of America card.
When her computer notified the teller that it was a high-risk transaction, she spoke with her manager. When the teller, a Black woman, explained Coogler wanted $12,000 and the transaction made her feel uncomfortable, the manager suggested talking to Coogler, she told officers. But she refused because she was pregnant and did not know if he had a gun. She then called 911.
“It be your own people.”
Police responding to the bank branch in ATL’s Buckhead neighborhood spotted a black Lexus SUV parked out front with the engine running. An officer talked to the male driver who said he was waiting for Coogler, who was inside the bank. A female passenger said the same.
A description of Ryan Coogler given by the driver matched the description reported to have been trying to rob the bank, the report says.
Body camera video released by police shows officers approaching Coogler from behind as he stands at the counter wearing a light gray hooded sweatshirt, a black cap, sunglass and a white mask. As an officer pulls his gun and another tells him to put his hands behind his back, Coogler is heard saying, “Whoa, whoa, what’s going on?”
The outside officer detained both the driver and passenger in the back of a police vehicle but neither were placed in handcuffs as two other officers led Coogler out of the bank in handcuffs.
Police soon determined the whole thing was a mistake by the teller and Coogler “was never in the wrong,” the report says. The handcuffs were immediately removed and the other two people were released from the back of the patrol vehicle.
Ryan Coogler was released without incident.
Police can be seen on body camera video explaining to Ryan Coogler that they were responding to a call of a bank robbery and had to take appropriate precautions. Still sitting in the back of the police SUV, Coogler can be seen on video looking down and shaking his head as the officer explains.
Ryan Coogler replied to the officers that a medical assistant who works for him prefers to be paid in cash. When he withdraws a large sum to pay her, he said, he passes the teller a note because he does not want the cash run through the money counter right there because it attracts attention and makes him feel unsafe.
The teller never indicated there was a problem and when she went to talk to her manager, other bank employees kept asking if he was being taken care of, he told officers.
“I don’t know who made what call, who did what, but I just had guns drawn on me for taking money out of my own account,” Coogler told police.
“We deeply regret that this incident occurred. It should never have happened and we have apologized to Mr. Coogler,” a statement from Bank of America says.
If art is an imitation of life, Ryan Coogler’s powerful legacy of filmmaking may ascend to new heights as he, unfortunately, became the main character in a movie he never wanted to see.