As an African-American high schooler living in Brooklyn, Sierra Mitchell said the national conversation about policing in America is a topic of conversation among her friends, some of whom don’t trust the police.
But on Monday — one day after Riverhead police Sgt. Harry Hill, Sgt. Jon Devereaux and officer Brian Clements helped Sierra and her friends make it back home to Brooklyn when they were stranded after a trip to Splish Splash — the 17-year-old high school senior said she wants to make sure these officers are praised.
“If it weren’t for them I don’t know when we would’ve made it home,” she said. “All police officers should strive to be like them.”
Sierra was dropped off at Splish Splash that day with three friends from Brooklyn. After enjoying the rides at the park, Sierra and her friends left around 7 p.m., but found out their ride back to Brooklyn wasn’t able to pick them up.
The group had spent most of their money in the park and now couldn’t afford a car service back to the Ronkonkoma train station, which would have cost up to $120. To their dismay, the group also learned the last train out of Riverhead train station had already left.
“I kept saying ‘we’re really stranded,’” Sierra said. “It was unbelievable. It was like we were in a movie.”
They walked to a nearby bus stop, but found out that the bus did not run on Sundays. Sierra and her friends were stranded and night had fallen. They tried to call home, but Sierra’s mother couldn’t be reached and her father was working as a bus driver, so he couldn’t take their calls.
The trip to Splish Splash was the group’s first journey to Riverhead without an adult, Sierra said. “I started to get scared, like we were just sitting there thinking ‘what are we gonna do?’” she said.
It was 10 p.m. by the time the group, now out of ideas for how to get back home, flagged down a passing Riverhead Town police SUV at the bus stop.
Sgt. Hill said he spotted the teens while heading down the road and pulled over to see what was the matter. Sierra and her friends explained they were stuck in Riverhead, far from home.
“They were stuck and I couldn’t leave them stranded there,” Sgt. Hill said. “We were really concerned for their safety. They were young and it was getting dark.”
Sgt. Hill made some phone calls and managed to find a free sector car to bring the teens to Ronkonkoma train station. Sgt. Hill said the police department normally wouldn’t shuttle passengers around, especially as far as Ronkonkoma. But this was a special circumstance, he said.
“They were good kids,” he said. “There really wasn’t any other option.” Sierra shook Sgt. Hill’s hand. One of her friends gave him a hug, she said.
Sgt. Devereaux and Officer Clements arrived a few minutes later and — with the teens packed into the back seats — drove off for Ronkonkoma.
“They were just so inviting and warm,” Sierra said. “They just had good vibes around them.” The trip took more than an hour thanks to traffic, but the cops and the Brooklyn teens spent the whole time talking and cracking jokes. They talked about the teens’ future plans, their neighborhoods, even the Kardashians, Sierra said.
“The conversation was just flowing,” she said.
The group managed to catch the 11:40 p.m. train out of Ronkonkoma and made it home just before 1 a.m. Her mother had been taking a nap and missed the teens’ calls, Sierra said.
Even though she was afraid of the consequences from her parents, Sierra said Monday she was happy to have made it home. She credited the Riverhead police for that, saying they proved that no group should be judged — for their race or for being a police officer.
“I really can’t thank them enough,” she said. “They really are dedicated. That was the best encounter I ever had with police.”