A class action lawsuit filed this week by high-profile civil rights attorney Ben Crump accuses the Beverly Hills Police Department of racial profiling against people of color on Rodeo Drive.
“We’re here because the Beverly Hills Police Department arrested African Americans for being Black on Rodeo Drive,” Crump said in a news conference Wednesday.
The lawsuit alleges that Beverly Hills police officers on Rodeo Drive Task Force were “unjustifiably targeting people of color for things that white residents and visitors do all the time without incident,” Crump said.
Between March 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021, the task force arrested 106 people — 105 of whom were African American and one was Latino, according to the complaint.
A “substantial number” of those incidents — which included arrests for roller skating, riding a scooter and jay walking — resulted in no charges for lack of cause and evidence, the attorneys on the case said.
The Beverly Hills Police Department has not responded to KTLA’s request for information on Rodeo Drive arrests for that period.
“You had to be intentional to try to arrest those many Black people in Beverly Hills,” Crump said. “The demographics show that there are not many black people who live in Beverly Hills.”
Crump, who has been called “Black America’s attorney general,” represented the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Abery and other Black people whose deaths sparked national outcry.
The suit was filed on behalf of Jasmine Williams and her boyfriend Khalil White, who were visiting the internationally known luxury shopping street in Beverly Hills while on vacation from Philadelphia in September last year.
The two were riding a scooter on a sidewalk when they were detained by officers, who handcuffed and later arrested them “on multiple fabricated charges” that were later dropped, according to the complaint.
White said he had to spend the night in jail and pay a $25,000 bond.
Both White and Williams said the ordeal was traumatizing.
“I was scared,” Williams said in the news conference. “I’ve never been to jail in my life. So for me to be in here — to go from me being on vacation, to having my freedom snatched from me [in] a second — it was horrifying.”
After Crump’s news conference, the Beverly Hills Police Department put out a statement from Chief Dominick Rivetti saying that White and Williams were taken into custody after they were found riding a scooter on the sidewalk for a second time after having previously been warned.
“In response to information shared at a press conference today, it is important to note that Mr. White and Ms. Williams were warned earlier that day that riding a scooter on the sidewalk in Beverly Hills was prohibited,” the statement read. “At that time, 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.”
White said the couple hadn’t seen any signs saying it was illegal to ride a scooter on a sidewalk.
In his statement, the police chief also emphasized that the department was dealing with an increase in crime last summer and more complaints from Rodeo Drive businesses.
He said this prompted the creation of the Rodeo Drive Task Force, which ended up finding 13 loaded firearms on Rodeo Drive in one five-week period — something Rivetti called “unprecedented” for the city.
The department’s statement did not comment on the 106 arrests of people of color mentioned in the lawsuit.
“The women and men of BHPD take an oath to protect human life and enforce the law – regardless of race. Any violation of this pledge is contrary to the values of this department. We take all concerns regarding the conduct of our officers very seriously,” Rivetti’s statement reads.
The lawsuit also specifically names Beverly Hills Police Department Capt. Scott Dowling, who created the task forces — and who Crump alleged is known for being racist and prejudiced against Black employees at the agency.
Dowling “directed his subordinates to seize, interrogate, use force, falsely arrest, and maliciously prosecute any African-Americans who traveled on Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills,” the complaint reads.
The suit also brought up an October 2020 incident in which the task force stopped and searched a Versace executive, Salehe Bembury, a Black man who was shopping at Versace on Rodeo Drive.
Bembury later posted a clip to his Instagram page showing a few seconds of the encounter, with the caption, “BEVERLY HILLS WHILE BLACK. I’M OK, MY SPIRIT IS NOT.” In the clip, he says he’s being “searched for shopping at the store I work for and just being Black.”
The suit lists another incident in which the task force stopped a vehicle with a Black driver and passenger near Rodeo Drive “despite the apparent lack of any probable cause to stop them,” and asked them for their identification.
“This is a common practice in Beverly Hills and elsewhere that is not typically followed for white individuals, exposing Black people to more intrusive policing than white people and resulting in more Black people than white people becoming and remaining entangled in the criminal justice system,” the suit reads.