Social media erupted Sunday after a woman posted video footage of a Pensacola police officer interrupting a local church service to enforce a child custody order. The video, posted to Facebook by Teníadé Toni Broughton, has been viewed more than 240,000 times as of midday Monday.
The video depicts Officer Meghan Darling entering the Allen AME Sanctuary, a predominately African-American church in Pensacola’s Long Hollow neighborhood, and attempting to collect a child. Pastor Freddie Tellis repeatedly insists that the officer leave or wait outside. One person can be heard asking on the video if the officer would have interrupted a service at First Baptist Church — a nearby, predominately white church — in the same manner.
The Pensacola Police Department posted the following statement to its Facebook page just before 9:00 pm:
According to Chief David Alexander, the church’s pastor is the child’s maternal grandfather, and had refused to return the child to his father despite a signed court order. Alexander said that deputies from the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office earlier attempted unsuccessfully to retrieve the child from the grandparents’ home, and that Officer Darling attempted at least three times to resolve the issue from outside the sanctuary before entering and asking the parties involved to step outside.
Alexander said footage from Officer Darling’s body camera would be made available as soon as possible.