Wednesday 26 September, 2018

'Irrefutable evidence' of racial bias in Prendergast case - lawyers

Donisha Prendergast, center, is joined by Kelly Fyffe Marshall, right, and Komi-Oluwa Olafimihan as she speaks during a news conference, Thursday, May 10, 2018, in New York. Prendergast, the granddaughter of Bob Marley, and her two friends say they want police held accountable as well as a neighbor who called 911 to report a burglary when they were leaving a California rental home. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Donisha Prendergast, center, is joined by Kelly Fyffe Marshall, right, and Komi-Oluwa Olafimihan as she speaks during a news conference, Thursday, May 10, 2018, in New York. Prendergast, the granddaughter of Bob Marley, and her two friends say they want police held accountable as well as a neighbor who called 911 to report a burglary when they were leaving a California rental home. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Lawyers representing Donisha Prendergast, daughter of former Melody Maker Sharon Marley and former FIFA referee Peter Prendergast, believe that new evidence proves that she was racially profiled and unlawfully detained by the Rialto Police Department in California while checking out of an Airbnb on April 30.

Last month, Prendergast, alongside Nigerian-Canadian visual artist Komi-Oluwa Olafimihan and film-maker Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, were questioned by Rialto officers for 20 minutes after a neighbour called the police on Prendergast and her friends exiting an Airbnb they had rented for the weekend. They were putting luggage into a vehicle in the driveway. The neighbour claimed she did not recognize the people and so smiled and waved at them, but got no response. She apparently found that suspicious and called 911 saying that there was a burglary in progress. 

Attorneys Jasmine Rand of Rand Law, L.L.C., and Benjamin Crump of Ben Crump Law, have reviewed evidence and now believe there is irrefutable evidence that their clients were racially profiled. 

“Unlike the Rialto Police Department, my office did research on the woman that called the police and found that her social media contained posts indicating phobia and hatred of Islamic people, gay people, and racially-biased posts aimed at Black people. Her social media presence affirms that this woman perceives the world through a lens of racism and equates black skin with criminal behaviour," Rand told Loop Jamaica reporter Claude Mills. 

"Another neighbour that lives on the same street reached out to our office and informed us that the woman placed false calls reporting black people in the neighbourhood to police on several prior occasions. Our office has requested public records relating to any prior calls this woman placed and have been denied access.”

Rand revealed that the recording of the call revealed that the neighbour initially placed the call and reported that she saw a black man pulling luggage out of the house and loading it into a car and that she found the behaviour suspicious. The Rialto operator immediately asked for the “nationality” of the homeowners to which the neighbour responded “white.” 

Radio communications revealed that officers stated that suspects possibly broke into the home and were taking "loads of stuff out", which is an inaccurate description of what was reported and again escalated the response, Rand said. 

When the Rialto Police Department officers arrived on the scene, a body camera reportedly revealed an officer approaching the window of the car to inform Prendergast, Olafimihan and Fyffe-Marshall that the caller stated: “three black people were stealing stuff.”

The trio reportedly repeatedly informed the Rialto police that they believed they were racially profiled. The police were said to have become agitated and told them that they were “not going there,” and walked away without listening. 

The  lawyers are accusing the Rialto Police Department of ignoring their duty to uphold the law and to investigate whether or not the call the neighbour placed was motivated by racial bias and based in false allegation.

The lawyers also accused Rialto Mayor Deborah Robertson of recanting a private apology to the offended parties, and then changing her position, thereby clearing the police department and the caller without conducting an internal investigation. 

According to Crump: “Mayor Robertson made a disingenuous and calculated decision to side with the police department. It is a sad day in America when Mayor Robertson holds a press conference in essence retracting the apology she privately issued to our clients. Instead, she stood in front of a camera and denied to the world that the incident was racially-biased in spite of glaring and irrefutable evidence. What dangerous judgment and precedent did she set for residents of Rialto? For her own children?”

Rand stated, “This case provides a clear example of how an individual’s racism is encouraged and systemically perpetuated by our justice system. The evidence in this case is irrefutable. The woman that initiated the call was clearly motivated by racial bias, the 911 operator and police officers escalated and perpetuated racism, and the Chief of Police and Mayor Robertson rubberstamped the racism. Instead of apologizing to three innocent Black people who did not violate any law in Rialto, they aligned themselves with a White homeowner that violated a law by having an unauthorized Airbnb and another White woman that placed a racist call to police wasting thousands of taxpayer dollars."

The lawyers urged citizens to hold the police force accountable to enforce the statute outlawing false emergency calls which can endanger the lives of others. 

"Rialto citizens should be concerned that they have a de facto racial segregation law in effect that certainly would not allow for the safety or security of mixed-race families. In Rialto, there is no room for a White home-owning mother to have a Black son that loads luggage into his car. This is why states have statutes in effect to hold people accountable whom place false emergency calls that endanger the lives of others and law enforcement needs to start using them,” Rand said. 

A press release, issued by the lawyers on behalf of their clients, quotes them jointly stating: “We must hold accusers accountable for placing false and misleading calls to law enforcement agencies, and we must hold the agencies accountable to have better training and policies in place to identify racial bias. The monetary cost to taxpayers is high. The cost for us could have been our lives. A misleading 911 call cost 12-year-old Tamir Rice his life. Our nation is setting a dangerous precedent wherein black people cannot go to a Starbucks, eat at Waffle House, check out of an Airbnb, move out of an apartment, have a barbecue, and college students cannot fall asleep without being accused of criminal activity because of their skin."

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