L.A. Now

Actress Taraji Henson apologizes to Glendale police for racial profile claims

Glendale police dash cam video calls into question 'Empire' actress' claim that her son was racially profiled

“Empire” actress Taraji P. Henson apologized for alleging that Glendale police racially profiled her son during a traffic stop after a video obtained by the Los Angeles Times cast doubt about whether police had improperly targeted him.

Just hours after a 40-minute video showing an encounter between Glendale police and Henson's son went viral, the "Empire" actress apologized for accusing officers of racial profiling.

"I would like to publicly apologize to the officer and the Glendale Police Department," she said in an Instagram message with the hashtag #TurningANegativeIntoAPositive #LoveTarajiPHenson. "A mother's job is not easy and neither is a police officer's. Sometimes as humans we overreact without gathering all the facts. As a mother in this case, I overreacted and for that I apologize. Thank you to that officer for being kind to my son."

The footage from Oct. 18 shows the officer driving in traffic about 10:10 p.m. in Glendale when the actress' son, who is in a Honda Civic ahead of him, drives through a lighted crosswalk as a person walks across. His race was not apparent in the video as he was driving.

The officer, still behind the 20-year-old, speeds up and initiates a traffic stop.

In the video, the officer approaches Henson’s son's Honda and tells him he was stopped for driving through a lighted crosswalk while someone was walking in it. The youth tells the officer he was headed to a friend’s home in Calabasas.

He hands the officer his insurance information and says he has never been arrested. He says his name is Marcell Johnson, and his mother is Taraji P. Henson. Johnson is his father's last name.

Then the officer asked whether he had anything illegal in his car, and the young man responded that he had marijuana in his backpack, according to the video. He told the officer he has a state-issued medical marijuana license but couldn't find it.

“I appreciate you being honest with me about the weed. I do appreciate that because I do smell weed,” the officer said.

During the lengthy traffic stop shown on the video, Johnson was searched and told the officer he had Ritalin, a prescription drug used to treat hyperactivity, in his car. He admitted he didn't have a prescription and that he had gotten the pill from a friend.

“You know you’re not supposed to have that, right?” the officer told him.

Johnson then consented and allowed the officer to search his car. At that point, the officer was joined by two other officers and a police cadet.

For most of the traffic stop, officers searched Johnson's car for the Ritalin pill, which they never found because he said he may have left it at his friend’s house. They also found hash oil, marijuana and a grinder. The officer found a knife, which they determined was legal.

On the video, he told one of the officers he had smoked marijuana two hours before driving, so a sobriety test was performed. He passed the test.

After checking his car, the officer decided not to cite him for the original infraction because it would have a lasting effect on his driving record. Instead, he cited the young man for possessing marijuana.

“I am not going to give you a citation for running that yellow because that would actually put a moving violation on your driving license, and you are going to have to go to traffic school and all that stuff, so I am helping you by not giving you a violation on it. All I am going to do is take the weed from you,” he said.

The officer told Johnson he could go to court, show proof he has a prescription and probably just pay a fine.

“It felt like this was a little better than the other one,” he said. “I am giving this to you too because you smoked weed about two hours ago …  and a warning if you have Ritalin on you and you’re not supposed to, don’t do it. That’s a big violation and I wouldn’t want to do that to you.”

Glendale Police Chief Robert Castro said the racial profile allegations resulted in threats against the department.

“The contact and actions with Marcell Johnson were legal, professional and empathetic,” he said.   

His mother drew attention this week after she revealed in an interview with Uptown magazine that her son was racially profiled and stopped by police in Glendale and at USC.

The Academy Award- and Emmy-nominated actress said her son was profiled in Glendale, where he was stopped by police. She told the magazine her son followed police orders even though they allegedly searched his car illegally.

In the end, Henson said her son wasn't ticketed.

The “Empire” star said she planned to enroll him at USC before he was stopped by police. But now, Henson said, her son will be going to her alma mater, Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Henson told the magazine she’s “not paying $50K so I can’t sleep at night wondering, 'Is this the night my son is getting racially profiled on campus?'”

John Thomas, chief of the USC Department of Public Safety, said he “was deeply disturbed to read news reports about a prospective student who felt profiled on or near campus because of his race.”

In a statement, Thomas said he wanted to talk with Henson and her son.

“As someone who personally experienced racial profiling as a teenager, I have a stake in learning more about this incident and doing all I can to reach a just resolution," he said.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA on Twitter.

ALSO:

Sheriff Arpaio admits violating court order in profiling suit

Daniele Watts says history of racial profiling caused her to 'explode'

ACLU sues TSA for data on passenger-observation screening program

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

3:14 p.m.: This article was updated with the apology from Taraji P. Henson.

10:47 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from Taraji P. Henson's representative and clarifies that the actress' son's last name is Johnson.

The first version of this article was published at 8:08 a.m.

 

70°