LAPD probes likely ‘swatting’ call after descending on home of Black Lives Matter activist
Los Angeles police are investigating what officials say was probably a prank call that resulted in heavily armed officers descending on the home of Black Lives Matter activist Melina Abdullah Wednesday morning.
Los Angeles police are investigating what officials say was a dangerous hoax that led to heavily armed officers descending on the home of one of the city’s leading Black Lives Matter activists Wednesday morning.
Melina Abdullah, co-founder of BLM Los Angeles and a Cal State Los Angeles professor who has been at the forefront of recent protests decrying police violence, began streaming live video on Instagram from her home, showing armed officers staging outside.
“I don’t know why they are here,” she says. “They have guns pointed at my house. There’s a helicopter overhead. Nobody’s knocked at the door, but apparently they’ve made announcements for people to come out with our hands up. My children are in the house. My children are in the house. I don’t know what this is.”
An officer on a loudspeaker can then be heard specifically identifying Abdullah’s address from outside, before saying, “Come out with your hands up. ... You are surrounded.”
No one was injured, though Abdullah repeatedly expressed concern for the safety of her children and fear that officers would escalate the situation.
Josh Rubenstein, an LAPD spokesman, said the department’s Major Crimes Division was investigating what was “most likely a swatting.”
Swatting refers to a false emergency call made to attract armed police to a particular address without cause — a dangerous act given the potential confusion it causes among all parties and the history of tactical teams using deadly force.
Abdullah, who has since taken down the video from her Instagram account, said in an interview that she has doubts about the police explanation for the incident.
“I don’t buy their story but will see what they come up with,” she said in a text message with The Times.
Rubenstein said the situation was handled by Wilshire Division officers, and the department’s SWAT team was not on scene. He said a call was made about a house on the block where Abdullah lives, near Crenshaw, but he would not specify whether police thought Abdullah was the intended target.
It was clear, however, from Abdullah’s video that the officers were focused on her home.
After being summoned outside by the officer on the loudspeaker, Abdullah walks out her front door, telling officers she has her phone out and that her children are in the house. An officer asks her what her address is, and she tells him.
“Are you looking for me?” Abdullah asks. The officer asks her to come to him, and says, “You’re not in trouble.”
Once Abdullah gets to the officers, another officer asks, “Are you in any danger?” Abdullah says she is not.
“OK. We got a call to this location that there is a male in there holding you guys hostage, and he wants a million dollars or he’s going to kill you within an hour,” the officer says.
“Oh my ... no,” Abdullah says.
An officer then tells Abdullah that the police “just want to make sure you’re OK.”
“I’m fine. My kids are petrified,” she says.
While still interacting with the police, Abdullah seemed to clearly read the situation as one in which she had been targeted.
“It’s a setup,” she said. “That was a setup.”
City Councilman Herb Wesson called for an immediate investigation into the incident.
“This appears to be an illegal act of swatting (a prank call to bring armed officers to a particular address) and we need to hold whoever did this accountable,” Wesson wrote on Twitter. “While she’s known to all of you as an activist with @BLMLA, [Abdullah] is the mother of three children and to put her family through this is unacceptable, no matter where your politics may lie.”
Cynthia Anderson-Barker, Abdullah’s attorney, said she received a call from Abdullah’s daughter during the incident, who was “clearly terrified on the phone,” and suggested police could have handled the situation differently.
“If Melina is a target of anti-BLM folks, the police should question calls of this nature and try to support her rather than terrify her,” Anderson-Barker said.
Rubenstein said the department did not plan to release body-camera footage from the encounter. He said 911 recordings would have to be obtained through a public records request. The department did not immediately respond to such a request by The Times on Wednesday.
The FBI has warned of the dangers of swatting since 2008 and says hundreds of cases occur every year. The LAPD said Wednesday that swatting “is dangerous and places the community and first responders in harm’s way.”
A California man was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year for making bogus calls to law enforcement across the country, including one that led to police fatally shooting a Kansas man.
In 2018, officers in Florida swarmed the home of David Hogg, a student who became an outspoken gun control activist after the mass shooting at his high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland. Fellow student activist Cameron Kasky was also targeted.
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