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Restorative Justice Process Offered Following High-Risk Traffic Stop

Posted on September 22, 2020

On Monday evening, City Attorney Rob Epstein provided the City Council and the community with a description of an event that recently occurred involving a high-risk traffic stop. 

Watch the video:

Transcript of Mr. Epstein’s comments:

I am going to offer some remarks on an incident that occurred last month. It was an incident involving our police department, and I’m talking about it tonight because we are expecting [a Marin] IJ article to come out shortly about the incident. We thought it was important to bring it to the attention of the community tonight.  

This incident was a traffic stop. It occurred due to a report that 911 received about an armed carjacking. The incident ultimately involved a person who was pulled over on Highway 101 and the person was Black. It’s important to note right at the outset that when this individual was pulled over, none of our officers were aware of the person’s ethnicity, nor their gender, age, or otherwise. The officers were responding to a 911 call that had been made just a few minutes before.  

That call raised a reasonable suspicion that the vehicle had been stolen by someone who was reported as carrying a firearm. When this occurs, it’s what the police call a high-risk traffic stop. A single officer spotted the vehicle and thought that he had a match to the vehicle that had been described over the dispatch. There was no license plate that they had; they were just going by a vehicle description. That officer had to wait for backup because believing that the person in the vehicle could be armed, they required more units to respond.  

When the stop occurred, the person was required to exit their vehicle. They had to walk backwards toward the police officers and ultimately, they were briefly handcuffed. Then when the matter was sorted out, when our police officers were made clear that they had the wrong vehicle, this person, after having been briefly detained, was released after the officers apologized for what had occurred. 

Chief Bishop, after she had an opportunity to hear about this incident and review it, reached out to the individual who was involved to express her apology that this had happened, and this person told the Chief that the person had been traumatized by the incident.

The City has now received a claim associated with this incident. And typically we do not comment on pending claims, but I do want to make a couple of additional remarks. There is body cam video of the incident and the City’s prepared to release that and we’ll be doing so promptly. 

But we wish certainly to maintain the privacy of the individual involved. This is something that is very painful for the person to whom it happened. And as I’ve thought about it, I would say that I would only imagine what it must have felt like to be the person who was incorrectly pulled over, by officers who believe that the person was armed, who were pointing their firearms at the person. 

I can tell you that because the individual to whom this happened was Black, I can’t even imagine how terrifying that must have been for that individual. It’s an upsetting incident, and it’s one that fills us with sorrow at City Hall and at the Police Department that it occurred. It was brief, but in that brief period of time there was real trauma that resulted for this individual. 

There is something that I’m pleased to report after telling this news though, that has been sparked at City Hall as a result of the conversations around this incident and what we could do about it. 

The Chief has reviewed the incident, I have reviewed the incident, and our outside counsel has reviewed the incident. With regard to the technicalities of the police procedures and practices, everything that they did was done correctly. And again, it could not have been a case of racial profiling because the officers did not know the ethnicity of the person when they pulled the person over until after the person got out of the car.  

But recognizing in these fraught times how intense and traumatic that experience must have been, we’ve now reached out to this individual with something new that we’ve never tried before and it’s not something that local governments are really familiar with. We’ve had the good fortune recently of having contact with Lorenzo [Jones] who helped us with our #8Can’tWait committee and Lorenzo introduced us to another local expert, Rochelle Edwards, who is an expert in what’s called restorative justice.  

We had a chance to meet with her and talk about what she might be able to bring to this situation. After that conversation the City invited this individual to engage with the police officers who were involved to have a session of conversation and restorative justice with the goals being an effort to gain mutual understanding to hear one another about what they experienced in the incident. And hopefully, for an experience for everyone concerned of healing. We don’t have an answer yet whether this individual is willing to participate in that process, but I am very pleased that this is something that the City has now initiated and is hoping to do. 

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