Two Black visitors to Beverly Hills in 2020 who say they were wrongfully arrested while protesting the actions of police during the “Operation Safe Street” program are suing the city and the head of the program.
Jasmine Williams and Khalil White brought the proposed class-action complaint Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that Capt. Scott Dowling‘s efforts to make the city safer ended up with 105 out of 106 of the arrestees being Black. The civil rights suit seeks unspecified damages.
Dowling was in charge of “Operation Safe Street,” also known as the “Rodeo Drive Task Force,” from March 1, 2020, to July 1, 2021, and the only person arrested who was not Black was a Latino who appeared Black, according to the suit. Dowling referred to Blacks as “lazy” and laughed after viewing a video entitled “Yellow Fever With Soul” that was made by two Beverly Hills officers in 2015 and made fun of Blacks and Asians, the suit states.
Many of those detained during the program were simply riding roller skates or scooters and Dowling ordered those on his team to arrest and interrogate Blacks who traveled on Rodeo Drive, according to the suit.
“While African-Americans as a class were arrested for such actions, Caucasians … who engaged in the same actions were not arrested,” the suit states. “Thus, the defendants engaged in racial profiling.”
Williams and White, while visiting Beverly Hills on Sept. 7, were riding a scooter and “protesting the unlawful detention and citing the continuous racial targeting of individuals of color” when they allegedly were handcuffed and arrested on “multiple fabricated charges.”
Prosecutors later declined to file charges against the plaintiffs, the suit states.
Responding to the lawsuit, Beverly Hills Police Chief Dominick Rivetti said Wednesday that Williams and White were arrested for riding a scooter on the sidewalk because they were previously warned the activity was prohibited. Rivetti also said the department created the Rodeo Drive Team to thwart a spike in crime along the famed shopping street, and he denied any racial bias by the officers involved.
“These calls included burglaries, shoplifting, pedestrian and vehicle code violations, street gambling, public intoxication, marijuana smoking and more,” Rivetti said in a statement. “This rise in crime during the pandemic and following months of civil unrest was not unique to Beverly Hills.”
In five weeks, the Rodeo Drive Team recovered 13 loaded firearms from individuals on Rodeo Drive, which he said was unprecedented for the city. He also said officers recovered more than $250,000 in cash and fraudulent EDD cards with a potential value of $3 million dollars.
Lawyers for Williams and White, including civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, held a news conference Wednesday to bring attention to the couple’s proposed class-action complaint.
“You had to be intentional to try to arrest (that) many Black people in Beverly Hills,” Crump said at the news conference. “The demographics show that there are not many Black people who live in Beverly Hills.”
He said the people arrested during the team’s operation were detained for “being Black on Rodeo Drive.”
Rivetti did not address the alleged numbers of arrests of Black people during the team’s operation, but he denied that race played a factor.
“The women and men of BHPD take an oath to protect human life and enforce the law — regardless of race,” the chief said. “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.”