Beverly Hills: Lawsuit accuses police department of racially profiling Black people on Rodeo Drive

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (KABC) -- Civil rights attorney Ben Crump has filed a racial profiling lawsuit against the city of Beverly Hills. Crump is representing a Black couple from Philadelphia arrested last year for riding a scooter on the sidewalk and resisting arrest.

"It was traumatizing," said Khalil White, who spent a night in jail after the arrest. "We didn't see any signs, anything stating that it was illegal to ride a scooter on a sidewalk on Rodeo Drive."

White and his girlfriend Jasmine Williams were on their first day vacationing from Pennsylvania when they were arrested on September 7, 2020.

"I've never been to jail in my life," Williams said at a news conference in front of Beverly Hills City Hall Wednesday. "So for me to be in there, to go from me being on vacation to have my freedom snatched from me in seconds, it was horrifying."

White and Williams were not alone. According to the lawsuit, the police department's Operation Safe Street and Rodeo Drive Task Force arrested more than 100 people between March 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021. The complaint alleges all of them were minorities.

"We had 106 people arrested - 105 of them were African American, one Latina," Crump said. "This is the culture of the Beverly Hills Police Department, to use the police to target Black people."

The Beverly Hills Police Department didn't address the number of minorities arrested in the enforcements, but in a written statement, Police Chief Dominick Rivetti said White and Williams had been warned earlier in the day that riding a scooter on a sidewalk was prohibited.

"At that time," the Chief writes " no enforcement action was taken. When committing the same violation later the same day and also providing false information to a police officer, Mr. White and Ms. Williams were taken into custody."

But this is not the first time Beverly Hills has been hit with a discrimination lawsuit.

"There's been a culture in the city of Beverly Hills that has been tolerated for far too long," said attorney Brad Gage, who is also working this lawsuit.

He says he's represented more than a dozen Beverly Hills city employees who have sued the police department for various forms of discrimination, including Captain Mark Rosen. Rosen won a $2.3 million settlement against the city after alleging discrimination because he was Jewish and over 40 years old.

Gage says this current class action case is finally forcing change in Beverly Hills.

"The three top people that were running this department have now either left or said they were going to leave," he said, referring to Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli who resigned in April, Captain Scott Dowling, who resigned earlier this year, and Assistant Chief Mark Coopwood, who just announced he will resign in October.

In a statement later provided to ABC7, Acting Captain Max Subin of the Beverly Hills Police Department said Coopwood's resignation "is entirely unrelated to the City's pending lawsuit."

"Furthermore, he is not named or mentioned in the lawsuit," Subin said. "Coopwood's resignation has been planned for many months in order for him to assume a new position in the private sector."

Rivetti's statement said the police department's practice is to "contact and question individuals when we believe they may be involved in criminal activity or another violation of the law."

The police chief said his department responded to a significant increase in service calls last summer, for "burglaries, shoplifting, pedestrian and vehicle code violations, street gambling, public intoxication, marijuana smoking and more" spurring daily complaints from Rodeo Drive businesses.

Rivetti said that was the impetus to create the Rodeo Drive Team.

"In a span of just five weeks, we recovered thirteen loaded firearms from individuals on Rodeo Drive. This is unprecedented in the history of Beverly Hills," the chief wrote. "I want to reassure the Beverly Hills community and the world that this department remains committed to keeping our community safe while enforcing the law with respect and dignity for all."
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