Video of an incident that spurred a racial discrimination lawsuit against the Atascadero Police Department shows a white officer questioning a black man standing outside his parked SUV and then asking him to have his wife roll down the window so the officer can “make sure she’s good.”
In response to the interaction, a lawsuit was filed in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court in July on behalf of Kyle Bell of Visalia, alleging that he was the victim of a racially motivated unreasonable detention and search of his vehicle by Cpl. Rochelle Hanson. The lawsuit also alleges the department “engaged in a pattern of systematic deprivation of the constitutional rights of African American citizens and other persons of color.”
The 3-minute, 17-second body-camera video was released Thursday in response to a public records act request.
In the video, which was recorded on Oct. 21, 2016, Hanson parks her police vehicle at the station and then addresses Bell as he smokes a cigarette while standing outside his SUV, which is parked on the street nearby. Hanson repeatedly tells Bell to ask his wife to roll down the window or open the door so the officer can check on her welfare.
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Bell asks her “Why?” and explains he pulled over to smoke a cigarette on their way home from Morro Bay.
The two talk back and forth before the officer approaches the car more closely. The woman then rolls down the window and says “We’re OK,” and the officer leaves.
The department has denied all of the allegations in a Dec. 18 court filing, and on Wednesday Chief of Police Jerel Haley told The Tribune that “the video speaks for itself.”
“There is no systematic action (by) this department to signal out any race, nor do we encourage that. We would be adamantly opposed to anything like that and would take measures to prevent it,” Haley said in a phone interview.
“We’ve always acted professionally and extremely above board,” Haley said.
It’s unclear why Hanson engaged Bell in Atascadero last year. In the video, she tells Bell, “I just want to make sure she’s OK. It’s just a little weird.”
He explains that they left from Morro Bay, took the turn, and he stopped to smoke before they continued on the freeway, to which she says, “OK, can you just have her open the door really quick?”
“Why?” he asks. “What’s the reason? We’re good, We’re fine.”
“It’s just a little odd. She’s sitting and you’re standing outside her closed door with the window up,” Hanson says.
The lawsuit comes amid a national discussion on the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities.
In June, Stanford University researchers released results of a survey of 60 million police stops in 20 states from 2011 to 2015 that found that police require far less suspicion to search black and Latino drivers than white drivers, and that black drivers are generally stopped at a higher rate than white motorists.