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Bicyclists share stories of being stopped by L.A. County deputies: ‘Everybody is a suspect until proven otherwise’

A man straddles his bike on a city street
Boyle Heights resident Erick Huerta has been stopped by sheriff’s deputies while riding his bike in East L.A.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Bike stops made by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies rarely garner headlines.

They occur thousands of times a year, largely out of the public eye. Only a few have led to bloodshed, but their toll is significant nonetheless. Riders and biking advocates say the practice contributes to the erosion of trust people have in law enforcement while doing little for public safety.

Here are a few cyclists’ stories of being stopped:

Erick Huerta often rides his bike through East L.A.

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He said deputies once mistook him for someone they were after — “some Latino male riding a bike” — and, with weapons drawn, demanded he get off his bike and put his hands up.

“If I, at least in some vague way, fit the description of somebody that they’re looking for at the time, that’s an automatic reason to stop me,” Huerta said.

Other times, he said, they have rolled up casually next to him or other riders he knows and lobbed probing questions from their patrol car to figure out where the riders are going or whether they are affiliated with a gang.

“Everybody is a suspect until proven otherwise,” Huerta said. “They’ve always had that kind of relationship with the community.”

Huerta is a board member for the transportation advocacy nonprofit People for Mobility Justice and teaches classes on bike safety, which include how to interact with the police during a stop.

“The more information people have at their disposal, the better informed they’ll be — and prepared — when they encounter those situations,” Huerta said.

A bicyclist uses a bike lane next to a traffic signal and bike lane sign
A person rides in a bike lane along Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Tony Pree, 56, was stopped twice over the years because deputies thought he looked like someone they were after.

“They stopped me saying someone burglarized a house and raped a girl,” Pree, who is Black, said one afternoon in the South L.A. neighborhood of Willowbrook as he was riding home with a Subway sandwich. “I was OK with them checking me out then because I knew, you know, I want you to find whoever this person is. He’s sure not me, so I didn’t have a problem too much with that.”

A man sits on steps behind a bicycle, with his elbows on his knees
Tony Pree said he’s been stopped on his bicycle by sheriff’s deputies multiple times.
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

A.J. Stiff has worked as a delivery rider for Uber Eats and usually pedals around West Hollywood, a mostly white city.

The Times filed a public records request for information about bike stops that Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies made from 2017 through the end of July.

Stiff said he was stopped this year while doing deliveries late at night near Santa Monica Boulevard. He was given a warning for not having a light on his bike.

He said the deputies seemed suspicious as to why he was riding so late and asked where he was going. They checked his driver’s license and ran his name through a computer system to check for outstanding warrants for his arrest.

“Out here everybody thinks if you are riding a bike you are homeless,” Stiff said. “So they were talking to me like I was homeless.”

Stiff, who is Black, felt like the color of his skin was a factor in the deputies’ decisions to stop him.

“There ain’t too many Blacks over here to start with. And I was out late riding around,” he said. “I don’t feel like they are targeting me, but I feel like if they see me they are going to pull me over.”


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