Black Lives Matter sues LAPD over traffic stops

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — Black Lives Matter is suing the Los Angeles Police Department in an attempt to end what it called the “unconstitutional policy” of using violent tactics during traffic stops involving suspected stolen vehicles.

“[We] want to put an end to their unconstitutional policy of conducting violent and traumatic traffic stops based only on often incorrect information from police databases, and that a vehicle might be stolen,” Rebecca Brown, an attorney with the law firm Hadsell Stormer Renick Dai said outside LAPD Headquarters Dec. 19.

According to Brown, LAPD officers use their database to make a determination when they suspect a vehicle might be stolen. Officers may observe that a license plate doesn’t match the vehicle when it comes up in their system, she added.

What happens next, she said, is that at least seven and sometimes up to 20 officers will surround the vehicle with guns or other weapons drawn and pointed at the drivers.

An LAPD helicopter will most likely be circling overhead, and the driver and occupants are ordered out of the car to lay spread-eagled in the middle of the street, Brown said.

“According to LAPD’s own statistics, approximately three-quarters of these suspected stolen vehicle stops are in fact not stolen,” Brown alleged.

She described these traffic and pedestrian stops as “dangerous” and “ineffective.” She said the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2014 that these tactics violate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

In a statement issued Dec. 19, Police Chief Michel Moore said “As this is a matter of ongoing litigation, we will respond to these allegations in the appropriate setting.”

Moore also defended the department’s policy, calling its practices “constitutional and represent efforts to protect the safety of everyone involved.”

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing the department’s rank-and-file officers, issued a statement criticizing the lawsuit.

“If successful, the latest legal stunt by the police abolitionist group BLM-LA will serve no other purposes than to allow car thieves to get away with stealing more cars and place police officers in further danger as they attempt to investigate car thefts and other crimes,” the league’s Board of Directors said in a statement.

“Coddling criminals and decreasing enforcement are not the solutions to a safer L.A., arresting criminals and holding their apologists accountable will keep us safer,” the statement continued.

Sheilanne “Shona” Sen, a plaintiff alongside Black Lives Matter and the Community Coalition of South LA, and Shibani Balsaver recalled their run-in with the LAPD in February 2020.

They said at least 10 officers pulled guns on them and pinned them to the ground after mistaking their U-Haul truck for a stolen vehicle outside her new residence in Los Feliz.

“Four years ago, I was stopped by LAPD because they mistakenly thought my car was stolen,” Sen said. “I wasn’t given a chance to explain myself or get clarity on what was happening.”

She added, “I was sure I was going to die.”

According to Sen, since that encounter, she avoids police at all costs and the trust she once had in them is now broken.

“I was treated as less than human that day. I was made to feel that my life had no value,” Sen said. “I am sharing my story today because this horrible, damaging policy must go so that no other Angelenos has to endure that terrifying experience.”

Leslie Johnson, a member of the Community Coalition, said the case is an opportunity to address the longstanding” issue of police violence, especially associated with traffic stops.

“Community Coalition is anchored in South L.A., and members of our predominately Black and brown community are routinely harassed, abused and even murdered by police officers in traffic stops,” Johnson said. “We want to do everything in our power to stop this violence against our people.”