Rialto officials dispute racial profiling claims in Airbnb incident

RIALTO, Calif. (KABC) -- The city of Rialto is fighting back against claims of racial profiling during an incident involving the police department, a city resident, and a group of Airbnb renters that's gaining international attention.

"I firmly believe this incident was not a case of racial profiling," said Mayor Deborah Robertson.

It happened on April 30, when a group of four Airbnb renters walked out of a Rialto home with their luggage, got into their car and drove off.

A Rialto resident in the area called police to report what she deemed as suspicious behavior, because she had never seen the people before, and felt they might have been stealing belongings from the home.

Officers responded to the location and pulled over the renters, who were in an SUV, and questioned them for 22 minutes while they contacted the homeowner. They were eventually allowed to leave.

But the Airbnb renters feel it's a case of racial profiling, based on something one officer told them. Police released body camera video and audio of the entire incident.

"The neighbor called and said that there was three black people stealing stuff," was what one officer was heard saying to the renters, who during the incident could be heard voicing their concerns about the possibility of racial profiling from the very beginning.

"I literally walked out of the house, and saw the lady looking through the bushes," said one of the Airbnb renters. "(I knew) she was going to call the police."

Even though the renters and police could be heard joking during the incident, the tone grew more serious at a news conference held a few days later.

"What happened to all of us was indignity," said Donisha Prendergast, who is the granddaughter of Bob Marley. "Do you not understand how you jeopardized our lives because of your fear?"

But Tuesday, the city of Rialto fought back, saying the entire incident could have been avoided if Airbnb had the home in question officially listed as a rental property.

Rialto city officials say they'll be meeting with Airbnb officials to talk about improvements in the future.

When asked whether the police officers who handled the incident, or the person who called 911 to report suspicious activity did anything inappropriate, Robertson was clear in her response: "In my opinion, no."
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