Top Figure; Bryan Pietsch/Business Insider; Samantha Lee/Business Insider

A white venture capitalist threatened to call the police on a group of black men in a Minneapolis gym, and a video of the incident is trending


A white venture capitalist in a Minneapolis gym threatened to call the police on a group of black businessmen, accusing them of not being tenants of the building, just days after a black man died after being knelt on by a police officer in the same city.

"I'm a tenant here. Are you?" the man said in a video of the incident recorded by the group. They posted the video on Instagram on Tuesday on the account for their ecommerce consulting business, Top Figure.

The group responded they had an office in the building, but the man, who identified himself in the video as Tom Austin, continued: "What office? What office are you in?"

"As you guys can see we're dealing with racism here," one of the men says. 

The men declined to tell Austin which office they had in the building, MoZaic East, in Minneapolis' Uptown neighborhood. The men rent an office in the WeWork in the building.
The Top Figure business partners; Abdi Hassan (center left) and Salman Elmi (far right)Courtesy: Top Figure

"I'm calling 911 then," Austin said. He then calls someone, saying "there's a whole bunch of people who don't appear to be" — before the audio becomes unclear.

Austin, CEO of investing firm F2 Group, according to his LinkedIn, said in a phone interview with Business Insider on Wednesday that in the video he was calling the building manager, not the police. The Minneapolis Police Department said there was no record of a request for police for this incident.

The incident comes days after a black man, 46-year-old George Floyd, died after being knelt on by a Minneapolis Police officer. The FBI is investigating the matter, and the death sparked protests in the city this week, where police deployed tear gas.

In an interview with Business Insider, the men said Austin's threat to call the police made them feel uncomfortable. 

"In this day and age when you're black, he knew exactly what that meant," said Abdi Hassan, one of the Top Figure businessmen. "That is a serious threat."

Austin said that he asked the men whether they were tenants because the property's building manager, Nicole LaVere, had sent an email to tenants about concerns that non-tenants were using the gym and the gym could be shut if the problem persisted. Business Insider has asked Austin for a copy of the email, but have yet to independently confirm its existence. LaVere was not immediately available for comment.

LaVere's email, Austin said, had asked tenants to each use their own FOBs to enter the gym. A FOB is required to enter and exit the gym, and the men were sharing one FOB among the group, Austin said.

But, the men said Austin's claim about sharing the FOB is false. Hassan, one of the men, said that four of his business partners were in the gym before Hassan entered with his own FOB and that they were not handing around a FOB as Austin said. 

Austin said when he asked if they had received the email about the matter, the men asked him who Nicole was and were unaware of the email, raising Austin's suspicions. But Salman Elmi, another of the businessmen, said they never received the email because as WeWork tenants they are removed from dealing with the building directly. 

After Austin called the building manager, the janitor came in to the gym to check on the situation. Hassan said that after the janitor came and recognized the group, the janitor left. "That's when [Austin] knew he messed up," Hassan said. 

Austin told Business Insider he was sorry for his actions and he overreacted. "I thought I was being helpful" to the building manager by reporting the men, Austin said.

Hassan said that Austin could have simply walked away and filed a complaint with LaVere rather than threatening to call the police — or that Austin could have asked them about their business rather than assuming they shouldn't have been there. 

"The conversation would have been so different," he said.

The group said they're used to facing difficulties as black businessmen, but that the gym was a safe, secure space for them that they visit often. "Are we supposed to wear our suits?" Hassan said. 

Austin told Business Insider that when he left the gym, he asked the men "if we're good" and that the group fist-bumped and moved on. When he went home that night, he thought the issue had been resolved, Austin said.

"I thought everything was fine," Austin said. "I was shocked to see that video." According to the Star Tribune, Austin had his office lease terminated in the building where the incident took place.

Hassan and Elmi said they don't wish any bad fortune on Austin and they "wish him the best," but that they've yet to hear from Austin since the incident with an apology for his actions. The building owner has reached out to apologize to the group, Hassan said. 

The incident occurred the same day a white woman was shown in a video calling the police on a black man who had asked her to put her dog on a leash in an area where park rules require dogs to be leashed. The woman told police that "there's an African American man threatening my life." She was fired from her job as an executive at investment firm Franklin Templeton after the company reviewed the matter.

Asked whether he had considered the recent occurrences in Minneapolis and New York City, Austin said "it didn't even occur to me." He said his issue with the men was that it appeared they were not all tenants, and he had not considered their race.

Austin also provided a written statement, which has been shortened for clarity: 

"Yes, I f----d up. Should have handled it differently ... I told them I'd have done the same thing if they were white, or even a bunch of girls who were trespassing. What surprises me is that we worked out in gym together for another 45 minutes. I had already apologized to them for making them feel it was a race issue and I listened to all their grievances about "being black." ...  Fake news!"

A video of the incident in Minneapolis can be seen on Twitter, where it was widely shared.

Rosie Perper contributed reporting.