Film producer of colour sues LAPD for violent traffic stop during ‘terrifying’ mistaken arrest

A Los Angeles film producer and her friend are suing the Los Angeles Police Department for a violent 2020 arrest where a helicopter and scores of officers with guns drawn converged on the women, mistakenly believing they’d stolen a moving truck.

In footage shared earlier this week with CBS Los Angeles, a group of at least seven police officers, some holding long guns, watch as an officer handcuffs one of the women, pressing his knee into the base of her neck.

Shibani Balsaver, the filmmaker, wrote in a blog post after the February 2020 arrest that she believes she may have been a target of racial profiling.

“I wonder if I looked ‘scarier’ or if I fit the profile of their bias, would I have gotten a bullet in my back?” she wrote. “I’m brown, maybe I did fit the profile.”

Officers began tailing the women last February, as Sheilanee Sen, who works in community development, was helping Ms Balsaver move her possessions from Hollywood to nearby Los Feliz in a U-Haul moving truck.

“It was terrifying,” Ms Sen told CBS. “It was probably the most afraid I’ve been in my life.”

Her boyfriend Roger had arrived at the apartment ahead of her and filmed the interaction with police. Even with bystanders, Ms Balsaver wrote she was scared to death.

“I am grateful that this will not go unnoticed, yet all I can I think is I am going to die alone on camera,” she added in the blog post.

Eventually, officers explained that their officers had misread a code in a computer system installed the previous fall, and thought the U-Haul truck was stolen even though it had been marked returned.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in March, officers never read the women their rights throughout the arrest, and Ms Balsaver said that after letting her up off the pavement and clearing up their error, officers even joked that the pair should “demand free U-Haul services for a year.”

The LAPD and U-Haul both declined to comment.

The complaint accuses the individual officers, as well as the department at large, of violating the women’s constitutional rights by using tactics consistent with a “high risk” arrest for a low-level property crime.

“They know what the law is. They’re sworn to uphold it, and they made a deliberate decision to break it,” Brian Olney, an attorney for the women, said.

The LAPD has been accused of racial bias for decades. A 2019 study from the Los Angeles Times found that Black people were four times more likely to be searched by police as white people, and Latinos were three times as likely. 

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