A movie producer is considering filing suit after he was held for six hours as a suspected bank robbery accomplice in Beverly Hills, his attorney said Friday.
Charles Belk, 51, was arrested Aug. 22 because police said he matched the description of an accomplice to a bank robbery that occurred moments earlier less than two blocks away.
Belk’s attorney, Jaaye Person-Lynn, said Belk matched the general appearance of the suspect--described as a tall, bald black man in a green shirt--but police erred in the six hours following his arrest.
Police did not ask Belk what he was doing in the area, delayed in allowing him a phone call and speaking with an attorney and did not check the bank’s security cameras for hours – evidence that ultimately allowed him to go free.
On Thursday, police Chief David Snowden announced the department had launched an internal investigation into Belk’s arrest and pledged to streamline arrestees’ access to a phones and lawyers. He said detectives would review electronic evidence that could vindicate a suspect faster.
That does not go far enough, Person-Lynn said. Belk should be compensated for an infringment on his rights, and the department’s officers should be retrained, he said.
“They didn’t think his liberty was worth them asking where he was coming from…that his word was worth enough to even listen to,” Person-Lynn said. “Any American citizen deserves to be heard before they’re taken into custody…for them to come to that conclusion with all those resources available is unfortunate.”
The way police treated Belk speaks to a larger pattern of racial profiling in the department’s culture, said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable.
On his Friday radio show, Hutchinson called for Beverly Hills to adopt an ordinance that would explicitly prohibit racial and ethnic profiling. Any city employee guilty of it, he said, would be suspended or fired.
“We think it’s a good opportunity to put Beverly Hills finally on record – ‘We oppose, we condemn and punish racial profiling,’” Hutchinson said.
Beverly Hills police officials maintain Belk’s detention was justified and that there were only “breakdowns” in how he was treated afterward.
Belk’s attorney added that he thinks that if police were retrained and the arresting process was streamlined, it could serve as a model for smaller Los Angeles-area police agencies and eventually, the Los Angeles Police Department and L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.
City leaders are scheduled to sit down with Belk and his attorney Wednesday in a closed-door meeting, Person-Lynn said.
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