Rialto Mayor Defends Police Who Swarmed Group at Airbnb After They Were Falsely Reported as Burglars

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After a group of people checking out of an Airbnb were swarmed by police, one of them posted to Facebook to tell the story of how they were falsely reported as burglars.

While the Facebook post and an accompanying video showing their encounter with police has drawn outrage online, city officials have said the officers were justified in their response.

Ed Scott, the city's mayor pro tem, told reporters on Tuesday that police were "professional" and acted "in a manner we should all be proud of" when they arrived to question the women last Monday.

Rialto Police Chief Mark Kling added at a news conference that "this is not a racial issue" as he described the encounter.

"This has to do everything with building better partnerships with our visitors, our business communities and we hope that Airbnb would help us to achieve that," Kling said.

But Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, who wrote the Facebook post and is a filmmaker, has alleged that racial profiling seems to be at the heart of the incident.

She wrote that she and three friends were bringing their luggage out of an Airbnb in Rialto last Monday morning. She specified that three of the four people who were in the group are black.

One of the other women with them is Donisha Prendergast, who police said is the granddaughter of singer/songwriter Bob Marley.

Just as they were leaving, police arrived.

"About 10 seconds later we were surrounded by 7 cop cars," she wrote in the post. "The officers came out of their cars demanding us to put our hands in the air."

The officers also told them that a helicopter had been tracking them, according to Marshall.

"They locked down the neighborhood and had us standing in the street," she wrote.

A neighbor had called the police on the group after thinking they were burglars, Marshall wrote. A local police lieutenant told CNN the caller was an elderly white woman who did not recognize them as her neighbors.

According to Marshall, police told them that the caller had reported them after they didn't wave to her.

Marshall wrote that things escalated 20 minutes into the encounter.

"Their Sergeant arrived... he explained they didn’t know what Airbnb was," Marshall wrote. "He insisted that we were lying about it and said we had to prove it. We showed them the booking confirmations and phoned the landlord."

She wrote that they were detained and it took 45 minutes for the police to figure out the situation and let them go.

But that same police response has been defended by Scott.

"I'm fully convinced that our Police Department acted in a very professional manner and in a manner we should all be proud of," he said during a news conference Tuesday.

"We, as residents in this community, want to be able to call for service and want police officers to arrive when we see something suspicious," Scott said. "I think if we learn one thing out of this whole incident (it is that) maybe we as residents should communicate a little more with our neighbors."

Homeowner Marie Rodriguez said the guests were her first ever under Airbnb and she disagreed with Prendergast's characterization of events after watching police body camera footage.

"What Miss Predergast had originally told me, I came to find out later were fabricated lies," Rodriguez said at a Tuesday news conference. "She told me that they were pulled over at gunpoint. That they were asked to be removed from the vehicle with their hands up."

Police have said in a news release that officers never used "any form of restraints" on the group "and actually allowed them to exit their vehicle and assist officers in locating the owner of the unlicensed Airbnb," according to CNN.

The release also said the Police Department was served with a notification of pending legal action on behalf of three people in the group – Fyffe-Marshall, Prendergast and Komi-Oluwa Olafimihan.

"We have been dealing with different emotions and you want to laugh about this but it’s not funny," Fyffe-Marshall wrote in the Facebook post. "The trauma is real. I've been angry, frustrated and sad. I was later detained at the airport. This is insanity."

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the gender of the people who stayed at the Rialto Airbnb. They were three women and one man.

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