Raleigh police turn 'disturbance' call into special moment at 5-year-old's birthday party

Joel Brown Image
Friday, April 29, 2022
Neighbor calls police on 5-year-old's birthday party
When Raleigh police officers arrived at 5-year-old Eli's birthday party, his grandmother, Tosha Holder, started recording.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- When Raleigh police officers arrived at 5-year-old Eli's birthday party, his grandmother, Tosha Holder, started recording.

"It was five officers," Holder said. "I was sitting right at the patio, watching the children. So when I saw (the police) come up, I jumped up and went straight to the door."

Eli was celebrating his big day with friends; Play fighting outside his home at the Aria North Hills apartment complex. The kids' commotion disturbed a neighbor who called police to complain that five people were arguing and fighting outside.

"As the officers were talking to the children, I walked up. And then he stopped talking to children and he came up to me and he was telling me why the police were there," Holder recalled. "And I told him it's a children's birthday party. They're all children. Nobody's out here fighting. They're children."

"Then the officers went out they started talking with the kids. They asked the kids whose birthday it was. The children told him whose birthday it was and then the police said, 'Well, how about we play with y'all?'"

That's when the disturbance call turned into play time. The officers threw the football with Eli and the kids. At one point, they all ran a footrace in the parking lot.

"It was a sigh of relief," said community advocate and Justice Served NC director Diana Powell who has spent years on the frontlines of fights in Raleigh over police accountability and better training for de-escalation. Powell counts what happened at the apartment as a win for community policing.

Powell says she speaks with Raleigh Police Chief Estella Patterson at least every other day. And she's been leading weekly three on three meetings -- three police officers and three members of the community.

"The people that have been around that roundtable feel like they're being heard," Powell said.

Holder says Eli describes the day as the best birthday he's ever had.

"It's been a total change in the kids since just that one experience. The kids have totally earned respect for police officers," Holder said.

A spokesperson for Raleigh Police Department tells ABC11 that Chief Patterson was delighted to see the video of the officers playing with the children.

"Every opportunity to engage with the community in a positive light is a win for the RPD and those we serve," Patterson said in a statement. "As we transition into the warmer months, you can expect to see more officers out and about enjoying the spring weather with the community. We would also like to wish Eli a very happy birthday!"