Last year, film production coordinator Shibani Balsaver hired a U-Haul truck to move her belongings to a new apartment with the help of her friend Sheilnee Sen and drove east to Hollywood.
As she approached her new home, more than 10 Los Angeles police officers, guns drawn, stopped the vehicle and surrounded the two women inside, as an LAPD helicopter hovered. With their guns pointed at the pair, officers ordered Balsaver to drop the key out the window, then for her and Sen to get out of the cab. They forced the two to lie face down on the street, video of the incident shows.
Officers kept their weapons trained on the two eagle women sprawled out on the sidewalk during the February 8, 2020 incident.
A spectator captured video showing two tall male officers putting their knees on their backs and one of them resting his right knee on Balsaver’s neck as the women were handcuffed. The officers had mistakenly believed that the truck had been stolen.
The two women are now suing the ministry in federal court for violating their civil rights by using illegal and violent “high-risk tactics” during what should have been a routine traffic stop.
“I felt terrified,” Balsaver, 31, said in an interview. “I thought the officers were going to shoot me and kill me. There were a lot of officers with guns.
She said that at first she had no idea what was going on but was shaking as a policeman placed “a lot of weight” on me while she was on the ground.
Sen said that when she saw the officer pointing a gun at her, she started to panic. “My heart was pounding so hard I felt like I was jumping out of my chest.”
The lawsuit accuses officers of following an official LAPD policy that allows them to treat roadside checks for non-violent property crimes, such as a suspected vehicle being stolen, as situations warranting high-risk tactics, including pointing. fire arms.
Police officials declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
In 2014, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that these high-risk tactics were unconstitutional for non-violent offenses. But lawyer Brian Olney said the LAPD’s contempt for the court ruling continues to terrify innocent people like Balsaver and Sen with illegal practices.
“A photo is worth a thousand words. Do these two women seem like a threat? And yet the police have their guns pointed directly at them, ”Olney said of the footage of the incident. “This is how Shibani was introduced to his neighbors.
“The courts have ruled that these tactics create a de facto arrest that violates the 4th Amendment, but the LAPD continues to ignore the law,” Olney said. “The truck was not stolen. It was a failure of the LAPD to train its officers that created a potentially fatal situation.
The U-Haul truck had previously been reported stolen, but it was recovered and rented several times before Balsaver rented it. According to the trial, in the aftermath, LAPD Sgt. The Hollywood station’s Jeannette Pelayo told the women that the department had failed to train its officers on new computer codes to distinguish between vehicles formerly stolen and those currently stolen.
Balsaver said the sergeant told them she would be “very upset if it was her mother or sister that happened, but she never apologized.” She said she hoped the trial would put an end to such behavior on the part of the LAPD. “It absolutely shouldn’t happen,” she said. “I really feel like they treated us like we were guilty. I now realize that this happens on a daily basis. “
Olney added: “The sergeant just explained, ‘We did everything in accordance with the policy.'”
Officers also forced Sen, at gunpoint, to open the back of the truck and reveal what was inside. Officers, according to the prosecution, without any probable cause, searched Balsaver’s personal property.
The women were released after officers could confirm the U-Haul had not been stolen. “They could have just asked to see the rental receipt when they approached the cab, and all of that wouldn’t have been necessary,” said Olney.
The lawsuit identifies Constable Jonathan Jarvis as one of the officers involved, claiming he stuck his left knee in Balsaver’s back and his “right knee in the back of his head and neck, pressing his face. against the sidewalk as he handcuffed her.
The 2014 case limiting the use of stops arose out of an incident in May 2009 in which a sergeant in San Francisco made a high-risk arrest on a 47-year-old black woman after an automatic plate reader d The license plate misinterpreted its Lexus license plate as matching that of a stolen vehicle. vehicle. The Ninth Circuit found that a stolen car report per se does not mean that a driver poses a threat to justify the stopping tactic.