Atascadero police sued over racial profiling

July 31, 2017

A lawsuit filed this month in San Luis Obispo Superior Court alleges Atascadero police unlawfully detained, questioned and searched a black man after spotting him with a white woman who happens to be his wife. The lawsuit alleges the Atascadero Police Department has a history of racial profiling. [New Times]

On Oct. 21, 2016, Kyle Bell of Visalia visited San Luis Obispo County with his wife and two children to spend a day at the beach. The lawsuit describes Bell, an Army reservist, as 6 feet 4 inches tall and “a very dark-complected black male.”

While heading home, Bell stopped in the parking lot at the Atascadero Police Department, thinking it would be a safe location to stretch his legs and smoke a cigarette before continuing the drive. An Atascadero police officer, later identified as Rochelle Hanson, approached Bell in the parking lot and began questioning him, saying he looked suspicious. Hanson then detained Bell using a “show of force” and searched his vehicle, according to the lawsuit.

Hanson also approached Bell’s wife and asked her, “Why are you here? Are you OK?” Officers eventually let Bell go.

Bell later filed a complaint with the police department. Bell and his attorney, Matthew Owdom, asked for an apology from the department and requested that officers receive training about racial bias. The police department refused to apologize and also refused to release Hanson’s body cam footage of the incident, Owdom said.

According to the lawsuit, Bell believes that his detention was based solely on his race and/or that his wife is a white woman. The suit also alleges the Atascadero Police Department has a history of depriving African-American citizens and persons of color of their constitutional rights.

Additionally, the lawsuit describes Atascadero as a “sundown town” with historical hostility toward interracial relationships.

Bell is suing for unspecified monetary damages and is requesting that the court appoint a special auditor to oversee rehabilitation measures within the police department.

Hanson is still a member of the police department. It is unclear if the department took any disciplinary action against her.

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He drove to the police station thinking it would be safe. Everyone knows that racism is alive and well in the central coast. How many official city meetings include the phrase “whinny Jew, dumb n, dirty m” and etc. It is a daily occurrence in our fine community. A man smoking a cigarette in a police station parking lot seems suspicious. A man with a white woman and two kids in a parking lot smoking a cigarette seems really suspicious. Throw a little color in the mix and oh my god, provocation and justification to lynch him – really wtf is wrong with the Atascadero PD – well that answer is simple it is a the type of lowlife character they seek out for employment.

How many official city meetings include the phrase “whinny Jew, dumb n, dirty m” and etc.

The burden of proof is on the affirmative. You have recordings of these meetings where the above language was used? Prove it or else be labeled a liar.

According to the New Times, the police officer approached Mr. Bell and said “You look suspicious.”

Um….I don’t care if the guy’s black, white or purple…those should NOT be a cop’s first words to someone who’s legally parked in their lot….with their wife and kids in tow.

How about “Hi, how are you?” or “May we assist you?” (After all, isn’t “protect and serve” their motto–not “harass and accuse”?!)

So Mr. Bell is told he “looks suspicious”, gets detained, AND his car gets searched…for WHAT? WHY?

If Mr. Bell is lying, then the Atascadero PD needs to release the body cam footage and prove him wrong.

And no, I’m not a cop hater. Personally, I’ve actually had mostly good interactions with law enforcement. BUT wow this story is concerning. Not saying a lawsuit is in order but at this point, who knows because again– Atascadero PD won’t release the body cam footage…and I think I know why not.

According to the New Times, the police officer approached Mr. Bell and said “You look suspicious.”

The New Times is a politically slanted publication. I would hesitate to implicitly trust them on an event of this magnitude. Also, does it make sense for a cop to tell someone that off the cuff? Even if they did, shouldn’t Mr. Bell attempt to defuse the situation since the PD parking lot isn’t where people normally go as a rest stop and thus the suspicion is warranted?

Um….I don’t care if the guy’s black, white or purple…those should NOT be a cop’s first words to someone who’s legally parked in their lot….with their wife and kids in tow.

Right. Because most travelers prefer the PD parking lot to the In-n-Out parking lot or one of the gas stations on Morro Rd.

How about “Hi, how are you?” or “May we assist you?” (After all, isn’t “protect and serve” their motto–not “harass and accuse”?!)

How do you know that they did not ask this first? You and I do not and can’t due to the lack of body-cam footage.

If Mr. Bell is lying, then the Atascadero PD needs to release the body cam footage and prove him wrong.

I completely agree with you here. It really would help things.

Atascadero PD won’t release the body cam footage…and I think I know why not.

Maybe the PD did mess up here. I reserve judgement until I get all the available facts.

In today’s world I think if you just hang out in the police parking lot you are going to be checked out by the police if nothing else for the safety of those working there.Why would you not stop at any other public area along El Camino Real like Sunken Gardens for example?There is a lot of videos coming out where people now go out of their way to come in contact with law enforcement so they can challenge them on technicalities of the law pertaining to unlawful detention .Guess we have to wait and see.I wonder what video he might have if any,hopefully it will be straighten out.

Sunken Gardens is often full of transients. Mr. Bell claims he wanted a safe place to park w/his family, so he chose to park near the police department.

Is he lying? Who knows but any jury will think it’s perfectly reasonable for a citizen to feel safer near a police department. (Obviously in this case that’s a wrong assertion.)

Besides, this case will never make it to court; a settlement $$$ will occur and I predict the police officers’ body-cam footage will remain private. For a reason.

I disagree. People simply do not pull into a Police Dept. parking lot to loiter and smoke. If they think someone is following them, then that is a good reason to head to the Police Dept., but usually these people will get out and report this to the police. The parking lot is for people with some business with the police; otherwise, they usually head to a parking lot for a business or grocery store or shopping center to have a quick smoke. Loitering in the police parking lot is suspicious behavior.

Looks like a frivolous law suit to me.

In this day and age of crazy people attacking cops, a 6′ 4″ guy shows up at an out of the way police parking lot in Atascadero, standing there smoking cigarettes–and gives this bizarre excuse that he’s stretching his legs after having come from the beach—and he’s lawsuit angry because he thinks he was stopped for being with a white woman? He went to them. They didn’t go to him. He’s asked for it.

Must be a lot of fun for her with that kind of paranoia going through his head.

At times it does appear that the Atascdero Police Department may appear to be a little aggressive. Often you will see several units at a stop. What most people do not realize is that crime is increasing in Atascadero, as well as throughout the county, and felony arrests are on the rise. Felons are bad dangerous people. With today’s environment against police, by some, do you not blame them?

In this case though, from another article that i read, it was noted that the lawsuit was for $25,000. That is usually the amount that attorney’s will file for because they know that city’s will just settle because it’s cheaper for them and therefor it’s easy money.

Pending a reponce from the PD and release of the body cam footage I would encourage the City of Atascadero not to submit to something like this.

As noted in the complaint that Atascadero has a history of racial profiling, he was detained by “a show of force”, Atascadero has a history of depriving African-Americans of their rights. Atascadero is also a “sundown town.” I find that somewhat interesting since Atascadero was one of the first city’s to hire a black police chief. Where is there any proof of this? I guess we can now just wait for Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to show up to bring the show up to speed.

This sounds like a set-up to me. He leaves the beach and just 40 minutes later he needs to pull over and stretch his legs? Anyone black or white lingering in a police department parking lot would make me suspicious. He knew what he was doing.

Let’s look at this from another perspective…

A Black Man is going through an unfamiliar town and decides to pull over for whatever reason and wants to find a safe and unobtrusive spot where his actions are not suspected of anything criminal because of the day-and-age we now live in and he decides on the parking lot of the local PD; my reaction would be “Smart Choice! For You and Your Family!” Besides in this day-and-age with smart phone technology he could have found out very easily that APD is what, three or four blocks from where 41 and 101 converge and he felt it wasn’t too far to travel off course for a safe place to grab a smoke and stretch! And! What time of day, or night, did this happen?

And if he did he set these LEO’s up? Wouldn’t that beg the question “Why come all the way to Atascadero from Visalia to do so?” Had he heard something, was there a motivating factor in doing so? Hell, he could have traveled less distance and ended up in Oildale and almost be assured he would have gotten the same reception without coming anywhere near a PD’s parking lot!

I was once “lit up” by the CHP and I purposely did not pull over on the highway; it was night and where I was wasn’t lit (I-10 in Blythe) so I pulled off at the next exit and pulled over in the lit parking lot of a Popeye’s; when the CHP Officer asked why I just told him I wanted to be in a place that was lit and safe for the both of us. I had a ticket coming but he let me go with a warning…

In San Luis Obispo he would of been cited for smoking his cigarette in a public parking lot!!!

Was the officers actions race based, or a equal opportunity police action?

Sounds more like somebody want’s to cash in on a minor normal incident, cop’s are out there to protect us from suspicious going on’s, no harm, no foul, can’t we all just get along:)

He went out of his way to find the police department parking lot.

APD has a huge parking lot in the front and it is on the main drag. The place used to be a Beeno’s. I don’t see anything wrong with pulling in there.

I wasn’t aware stopping in a police parking lot to stretch was a suspicious activity, to me seems the police officer has been watching too many tv shows. Agreed it might have been a normal incident and the police department could have settled it very quickly with a simple apology but no now the taxpayers are going to be paying high legal fees and attorney costs but the police department doesn’t care it’s only someone elses money.

I wonder what Dennis Hegwood thinks about this? Love to hear more about the City than the Department. One can dream.

May Mr. Bell win his suit big! Disgusting, but normal behavior from our noblemen.

6 down votes? Must be all the A-town cops voting.

Oh no, DocT! That would be the general consensus of SLO shown in the vote! Maybe not the disgusting part but rather the suing part! What would be disgusting to them is that a citizen of the United States of America would have the audacity to exercise his Constitutional RIGHTS, especially when it appears his were violated.

Being an American-African doesn’t help, having a white wife probably exacerbates it, but ultimately it’s the exercising of this man’s rights that pisses these folks off…

A-Town citizens, not cops. I’m one citizen that is very proud of our Atascadero PD. Best in the county as far as I’m concerned.

Nope. A-Town cops are on par with Morro Bay cops. They love to harass people.

Actually, I downvoted your comment due to bad logic. Remember presumption of innocence? Yeah, its a legal principle to protect people from false charges.

LOL! Are you guys defending this behavior? I’ll bet there will be a settlement before there’s a trial.

I hope none of you cop lovers ends up getting laws enforced on you. Especially if they’re enforcing laws you didn’t break….with a lot of force.

Some people just beg for this to happen to them….shortsighted and foolish in the extreme!

DocT, quite a bit of time ago, I endured an assault and corresponding battery from a cop that was angry that I was driving w/o a license (I was 16 at the time). He left my keys out on the open in order to exacerbate my car getting stolen from the area where it was left at.

So according to your logic I should be angry at cops but I’m convinced that one was just a bad apple. I’m not going to lump all cops with that guy who did that to me many years ago. In addition, I’m quite certain that it was racially motivated as well. Still, most cops are good but have a very understandable fear when dealing with people who do not deal rationally with authority figures.

I’m not saying that there are not bad cops, I’m trying to communicate that there are ALWAYS two sides to a story and you seem to have reached a foregone conclusion in relation to this situation.

None of us know what happened but the article said he ‘was detained’. After finding out all he wanted was a safe place to smoke and stretch the cops should have retreated, not harassed him. Don’t most of the copper cars say “to serve and protect”?

As a white, entitled male I get incensed when cops overdo it. They should be trained in restraint, not aggression. I think if I were a black male I would be pissed off all the time knowing that lots of white cops are just waiting to get me for something, anything.

It is up to the cops, not us, to reduce tensions. They are trained and paid to deal effectively with citizens, if they can’t stand the heat they should get out of the kitchen.

Wow. So many presumptions in your comment.

Yeah, he was detained. So the one thing all cops want is more paperwork that results from taking someone in? I don’t know anyone inside or outside of law enforcement that would want that.

Did it occur to you to ask yourself why the PD would go thru all that trouble to detain him? You write that cops should practice more restraint and less aggression. I agree. That also goes both ways where the citizen should treat the police with more verbal restraint and less aggression.

Also, having the Atascadero PD parking lot as a safe space to rest and have a smoke? Is there some element in Atascadero where the local fast food restaurants or in the far parking lot of the gas stations are not safe? The PD parking lot is close to an entrance to a freeway but it is a minor one. Sorry, but the PD parking lot as a rest area rings as a fake story to me. It just doesn’t make sense at all. In all my years in this area I’ve never heard of people talking about that parking lot as a ‘rest area’.

Please explain your ‘white entitled male’ statement. Is there a sticker you wear everyday or a badge? I know a number of white males who were denied government jobs due to affirmative action. I would say they definitely did not receive preferential treatment. And this is coming from a non-white male who attempts to be an honest observer of events.

You are half right in your comment about reducing tensions. It is up to ALL OF US to reduce tensions, not just cops.

Your assumption of white cops just waiting to bust blacks is remarkably bigoted. Put down the stereotype, stop listening to the Democracy Now type misinformation that people are feeding you in order to control you. Test all statements by your own observations and careful research.