A Black crew member for the television show “Grey’s Anatomy” is accusing a pair of Los Angeles Police Department officers of racially profiling him when they forced him out of the production van he was driving and attempted to arrest him in front of his coworkers, apparently believing he had stolen the vehicle.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court Thursday, Ernest Simon, Jr., 31, said the attempted arrest on March 18, 2021 occurred despite the fact that he had already driven onto the Tarzana production lot where he was working that day, past security guards who told the two LAPD officers that he was an employee.
“(The officers) — ignoring the security guard’s explanation and the other readily observable facts that the (lot) was being used for a television production — entered the (lot) and approached Mr. Simon with their guns drawn as Mr. Simon sat in the driver’s seat of the parked van,” according to the suit.
Further, despite Simon’s coworkers telling the officers they were mistaken, more LAPD officers and a helicopter arrived at the lot while Simon was ordered “to lay face down and spread eagle on the hot asphalt.”
In all, it took about 30 minutes for the officers to realize Simon had not stolen the van and release him.
“The LAPD’s wrongful and illegal actions caused Mr. Simon to fear that he was about to be shot at his workplace in front of his co-workers for simply being a Black man in the wrong neighborhood,” said Stephen Larson, an attorney for Simon.
The lawsuit, which named LAPD Chief Michel Moore and 20 unnamed officers as defendants, accused LAPD of unreasonable search and seizure, excessive force, de facto arrest without probable cause, and racial profiling, among other charges. Simon demanded $20 million in damages, though any damages would be determined in a jury trial.
An LAPD spokesman said the department does not comment on pending lawsuits.
In the suit, attorneys for Simon said LAPD claimed the officers who followed him did so because their automated license plate reader “erroneously alerted them that the van’s license plate matched a BMW sedan that had been reported stolen.”
The van Simon was driving was a black Ford Transit with yellow Oregon license plates.
Attorneys for Simon said the officers should have been able to immediately recognize that the plate reader gave them a faulty alert.
However, the lawsuit also claimed the officers started following Simon before the plate reader gave them the erroneous reading.
On the day of the arrest, March 18, 2021, Simon was idling at a four-way stop when he spotted the two officers at another stop sign to his left. According to the suit, Simon waived for the officers to go first.
“Although Mr. Simon had the right of way, he respectfully gestured to (the officers) to go through the four-way stop intersection before him,” his attorneys wrote in the complaint. “Rather than heeding this polite gesture, (the officers) instead waited for Mr. Simon to proceed through the four-way stop intersection.
“Thereafter, (the officers) turned left and began to follow Mr. Simon for several blocks as he drove back to the (production lot).”
Simon continued driving all the way back to the lot, which was located at a parking area and playground at Gaspar De Portola Middle School being rented out by the Disney production.
According to the lawsuit, the lot was clearly marked as a Disney television production with uniformed security guards at the entrance. Other vehicles being used by the production were also parked at the lot, including a fleet of identical Ford Transit vans like the one Simon was driving.
Due to those circumstances, attorneys for Simon said the officers should have been able to recognize their mistake long before attempting to arrest him.
LAPD officials would not say Thursday whether the department was aware that its license plate readers could return erroneous results.
Zach Norris, the executive director for the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, wrote in June 2021 that unreliable technology combined with biased policing can lead to bad outcomes.
“Unfortunately, they are wrong at least one in 10 times, and like almost everything else in our policing infrastructure, the technology is unequally applied to concentrate the greatest scrutiny in communities of color and lower-income communities,” Norris wrote.
This content was originally published here.