A Black couple have sued the city of Beverly Hills, alleging their arrest was part of a campaign by its police to arrest Black people for trivial reasons and at disproportionate rates.
The couple’s lawyers, Bradley Gage and Benjamin Crump, said the Beverly Hills police last year set up a task force — dubbed “Operation Safe Streets” and the “Rodeo Drive Task Force” — that arrested 106 people, 105 of whom were Black and one of whom was Latino. Gage said the sources of the arrest figures were unidentified retired Beverly Hills police officers who were appalled with the task force’s actions and so shared with him the alleged racial breakdown of who had been arrested.
The impetus for the task force, Gage said, was both the protests over the death of George Floyd and what Beverly Hills police believed were transactions at retail stores using suspected proceeds of unemployment benefit fraud. Gage described the Police Department’s approach to rooting out suspected fraud as, “Gee, that’s suspicious — Black people shopping in Beverly Hills.”
Gage and Crump, who has represented the families of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others killed by police, raised their allegations Wednesday on the steps of Beverly Hills City Hall. “There is something terribly wrong here,” Gage said, citing what he called the city’s legacy of biased policing.
Gage and Crump are seeking class-action status for their lawsuit, which was filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The only named plaintiffs are the couple, who were arrested on suspicion of riding scooters on a sidewalk and resisting arrest; it does not appear that Gage or Crump has identified the 104 other people who they contend were arrested.
In a statement, Police Chief Dominick Rivetti said his department created a “Rodeo Drive Team” in response to complaints by businesses and a rise in burglaries, shoplifting, “street gambling, public intoxication, marijuana smoking and more.” The team seized 13 firearms carried by people on Rodeo Drive, said Rivetti, who called this “unprecedented in the history of Beverly Hills.”
Rivetti said the Rodeo Drive unit rooted out fraudulently obtained state unemployment benefits, seizing $250,000 in cash and ill-gotten debit cards. Most of the people arrested by the unit were not California residents, Rivetti said, but they nonetheless possessed debit cards loaded with state funds.
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SOURCE: LA Times, Matthew Ormseth