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Santa Monica Officials and Residents to Discuss Black Man’s Alleged Rough Arrest

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

May 19, 2015 -- Santa Monica’s chief of police and its city manager are scheduled to meet Thursday with local NAACP members and residents to discuss allegations that officers roughed up an African American man while arresting him at a City park last month.

Darrell Goode, president of the NAACP’s Santa Monica-Venice Branch, said the April 21 arrest of 36-year-old Justin Palmer at the electric vehicle charging station at Virginia Park -- some of which was videotaped by a resident who posted it on YouTube --  has sparked serious concerns by residents about the Santa Monica Police Department’s practices and policies.

Goode said NAACP members and residents want answers about how an apparently minor violation of a City park ordinance “escalated to the point that it did.”

“What was the cause? What was the reasonable suspicion that was raised for him to be slammed to the ground and then paper-sprayed, especially since Mr. Palmer only weighs about 106 pounds?” said Goode. “Someone needs to explain that one to me.”

City spokeswoman Debbie Lee said Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks and Interim City Manager Elaine Polachek will meet privately with residents to discuss the City’s and the SMPD’s commitment “to fostering long term relationships with our diverse community.”

Goode said NAACP members were meeting Monday with local residents “to get ready for the meeting Thursday.”

According to attorney Justin Sanders, who has filed an excessive force claim on Palmer’s behalf against the SMPD and the two officers involved in the arrest, Palmer was in the park charging his electric vehicle sometime before 11 p.m. when he was approached by officers and informed that the park was closing.

When he questioned why the officers needed to see his identification, Palmer was handcuffed then allegedly had his legs swept from under him by one of the officers, causing him to fall onto the side of his head, said Sanders.

According to Goode, Palmer blacked out after the fall.  Sanders said his client lost considerable time from work and has been to the doctor numerous times since the incident.

“This has traumatized Mr. Palmer and his family,” said Goode.

SMPD spokesman Sgt. Rudy Camarena said Palmer allegedly “actively resisted” during his arrest. He said arresting officers acted within department policy.

A day after the arrest, however, the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office declined to pursue the case in court.

Palmer is a working father of four with a college degree and no criminal record, “the kind of person you want moving here to Santa Monica,” said Goode.

“They shouldn’t have to worry about being mugged by the police,” he said.

Local NAACP branch members and other residents held a press conference Thursday to call for a prompt investigation into Palmer’s arrest and “to voice our community concerns with the policies of the SMPD that would allow what we’re viewing as excessive force and brutality,” said Goode.

At that press conference, a local NAACP member who was on a ride-along with SMPD officers as a participant in the department’s Community Police Academy alleged she heard an officer use a racial slur over the patrol car’s radio.

Goode said that alleged incident is also being investigated by the SMPD.  Local civil rights advocates worry that the two incidents point to the possibility that minorities are being singled out by police, he added.

“Something is wrong with this picture,” Goode said. “When you’re experiencing these types of situations, the first thing you want to know is, ‘Am I next?’”

Goode said that although the City’s minority community has had a “good working relationship” with the SMPD dating back to former Chief James T. Butts, who is African American, residents want assurances from Seabrook -- who is also African American -- that the department’s goals on diversity and equal justice are being practiced in the field by rank and file officers.

“We don’t want to throw the Santa Monica Police Department under the bus; we just want to make sure they don’t throw any more citizens under the bus,” Goode said.

Sanders has filed a claim against the SMPD and the two officers involved in Palmer’s arrest. The claim alleges the two officers used excessive force during Palmer’s arrest. (“Santa Monica Man Files Claim Over Arrest,” May 13, 2015)

A claim is the first step required by state law before a private citizen can take further legal action, such as a lawsuit, against a government body. Santa Monica has 45 days to notify Palmer and his attorney whether the City will take action or reject the claim.

Lee said the City Attorney’s Office “is in the process of evaluating the merits of the claim.”

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