When an actress and her boyfriend pleaded no contest to charges stemming from an arrest last fall, there was a catch: They had to apologize to the Los Angeles police officers they accused of mistreating the actress because of her race.
Three months later, Daniele Watts — best known for her appearance in “Django Unchained” — and chef Brian James Lucas presented the judge with an apology letter that raised eyebrows. Watts said the sergeant involved in the encounter provoked her, describing him as sarcastic and dismissive. She signed her name with a heart, but didn’t offer a direct apology.
“Hopefully you can forgive the fact that my heightened emotions disturbed what might have otherwise been a carefree stop on your way to a nice cup of coffee,” she wrote.
The couple was told to try again. This week, Watts wrote a new letter in which she apologized “for my lack of emotional control” and asked for forgiveness.
But the judge wasn’t convinced. Calling the apologies “insincere and passive aggressive,” she sentenced the couple Wednesday to 15 days of community labor and two years of probation, the city attorney’s office said.
In an interview, Watts insisted her words were heartfelt. She said she had learned from the situation and had hoped to reconcile with the sergeant involved.
Sgt. Jim Parker scoffed. “That was not an apology at all,” he said. “It was an excuse letter.”
The headline-grabbing story unfolded the afternoon of Sept. 11, when Parker responded to a report of a couple having sex in a car parked near a Studio City talent agency. Police said Watts and Lucas matched the description of the couple involved.
When the sergeant asked the couple for identification, police said, Watts refused and walked away. She was handcuffed down the street by two other officers, but released after her boyfriend handed police her ID.
The story quickly gained national attention after the couple publicly complained about the way Watts was treated. Lucas wrote on Facebook that police acted as though the couple had been engaged in prostitution because he is white and Watts is black.
The Los Angeles Police Department opened an internal affairs inquiry into the allegations. Parker defended his actions and released a 24-minute audio recording of the encounter, prompting some backlash against the couple’s comments.
“Do you know how many times I’ve been called, the cops have been called just for being black?” Watts said on the recording. “Just because we’re black and he’s white? I’m just being really honest, sir.”
“Who brought up the race card?” Parker said.
“I’m bringing it up,” she said.
“I said nothing about you being black,” Parker said.
Watts and Lucas were later charged with committing lewd acts. Those charges were dropped as part of the plea deal offered earlier this year, in which they agreed to plead no contest to disturbing the peace and write apologies to the officers and citizens who reported them.
Watts said she believed the incident highlighted bigger issues about race, policing and civil liberties, but felt that those were lost in the back-and-forth about the audio recording and now the apology letters. When asked if she would have done anything differently, Watts said she was “thankful for the entire experience.”
“I felt like I did the best I could throughout the process,” she said. “No, it wasn’t perfect by certain standards. But I did my best to come from my heart and share things that I think could benefit a larger conversation.”
The couple said they felt the judge reacted unfairly.
“I lost my cool. I could have been more kind to the officer -- and I get punished for that,” Watts said. “I get punished because they don’t believe my apology.”
Parker said he was ordered to attend an LAPD disciplinary hearing after he was accused of insubordination for speaking to the media about the incident. He retired instead, ending his 26-year career with the LAPD in June.
The former sergeant said he felt the judge’s actions were appropriate, saying Watts made a “childish attempt at the blame game.”
“I think this whole incident backfired on her because I recorded it. It would be a totally different discussion had my recording not been made,” he said. “In 26 years, a call like that has not blown up into anything of this nature.”
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